Skip to content
 

What it Means to be a (Facebook) Friend: Navigating Friendship on Social Networking Sites- Natalie Pennington

6Pennington742FinalPaper
Title: 6Pennington742FinalPaper
File: 6Pennington742FinalPaper.pdf
Size: 328 kB

Abstract

The development of social networks online and offline of college students were assessed for both quantity and quality. A survey (n=234) was administered to Facebook users regarding the size and quality of offline networks, Facebook networks, and what they used Facebook for. Results indicated the number of close friends perceived by participants was significantly lower than the number of Facebook friends and that a variety of individuals, shy and popular, use the site as an additive to their every day maintenance of networks. Questions regarding Facebook use suggested that users find the anonymity of the site useful to “track” and “check-up” on users of the site, as well as a place to go to distract/procrastinate from every day tasks.

Quality over quantity has long been an argument held when it comes to friendship: a few close friends are generally preferred to a larger network of acquaintances that lacks strong ties. Ask any Facebook user how many “Facebook Friends” they have however, and be prepared to hear numbers in the hundreds. The development of social network sites on the Internet has allowed individuals all over the world to connect with anyone else, at any time, for any reason. People are “Friends” with a person they met once at a party, but have not talked to since then—while also using the site to maintain old high school friendships, and build new relationships (boyd & Ellison, 2007.) But are these “Facebook Friends” any different than the friends’ users talk to at home, on campus, or at work—and can they replace a small group of close friends to support you in every day life? Understanding both the quality and quantity of friends in a computer-mediated realm in relation to the networks we have built, and continue to build offline became the basis for research in this study.

Interpersonal scholars have long noted the benefits to establishing a strong social support network early on (Giordano, 1995) and in a time where technology makes the development of networks more readily available to a higher number of people, it is important to understand to what extent these network sites play a role in every day life. Considerable research on socio-psychological factors, such as shyness, indicate that social network sites, like Facebook, may become a way for youth to feel the support required to become adjusted during adolescence (Stritzke, Nguyen, & Durkin, 2004.) And while youth do actively participate in SNS, it is individuals fresh out of high school experiencing the college life away from home that constitute the highest number of users on the social network site Facebook (Facebook Statistics, 2008.) This ability to extend high school networks while living far from home and develop new social networks while in college makes college students who use Facebook the ideal group to study when understanding the development of online and offline social networks. Through this study it will be made clearer the role that SNS plays in the lives of these individuals and the effect on social network size and quality these sites have had. This is important to consider as the field of computer-mediated communications grows to include social network sites as a viable communication tool.

Literature Review

Developing Social Networks

How individuals develop friendships and other forms of relationships has long been an area of study within the communication studies discipline. The existing literature base on developing relationships (Livingstone & Helsper, 2007, Mesch & Talmud, 2006, and Stritzke, Nguyen, & Durkin, 2004) examines socio-psychological factors that often influence an individual’s ability to develop relationships amongst peers from young adolescence well into the later teen years. It is no surprise that the most common personality factor that influences the ability to develop these ties is shyness. Research suggests that symptoms of shyness include: rejection sensitivity, initiating relationships, self-disclosure, and providing emotional support and advice. Individuals who exhibit any one of these symptoms will likely, according to studies conducted, have a statistically more difficult time developing social ties (Stritzke et al., 2004.)

Shyness does not make the development of ties impossible, but the studies have shown that individuals who struggle with communicating in social situations have an over all lower quality of life, the impact of their inability to communicate leading to depression and anxiety. As a result, the ability to develop high quality relationships at an early age is lauded as one of the most important skills needed in the process of adolescent adjustment. Students in a study where teachers were asked to say how well adjusted the youth were found that those considered “maladjusted” were the ones who often had fewer peer ties (Waldrip, Malcolm, & Jensen-Campbell, 2008.) By having friends that you can rely on, trust, and form a close bond with, the literature shows that individuals are more socially capable and happier, and more apt to deal with the variety of issues that arise as an individual experiences adolescence. Researchers suggest that the importance of ties comes most often in the form of social support which is defined as “the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages conveying emotion, information, or referral, to help reduce someone’s uncertainty or stress” (Walther & Boyd, 2002, p. 153.) This need to socialize and receive support is often found in shy individuals, but the ability to provide support and allow for that social exchange becomes a challenge because the individual fears the feedback they will receive as being a rejection of the individual.

Adolescence is established as a time where developing a social network is crucial (Giordano, 1995), yet little research takes the extra step into analyzing the continued effects that being shy has on an individual throughout their high school and college years, where the drive to belong to a community and be “popular” is stronger than ever (Zywica & Danowski, 2008.) Added to the struggle of finding a place within the high school social network, individuals who choose to go on to college often find themselves having to completely redefine their networks, attending universities thousands of miles from home, without a single close friend going with them to a new place, with new people.

Walther & Boyd (2002) discovered through their research that developing social networks online would likely be productive to shy individuals because they can achieve that support they might otherwise not have offline. While they are not establishing the high-quality ties that Mesch & Talmud (2006) say are imperative to social development, they are developing a higher number of weak ties that allow them speak with candor (and without a fear of rejection) that comes with being highly invested in a relationship. CMC offers kinds of support through weak ties that are difficult when communicating with a member of a close social network—researchers found that more information can be gathered from a larger network while eliminating stigma associated to that information, and individuals find validation in larger networks due to sheer number (Walther & Boyd, 2002.) The last statistic, regarding size of network, is also seen in research as a tool used to signal popularity: it was found that the larger the network connected to a profile (e.g. number of friends) the more attractive that person was thought to be (Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell & Walther, 2008.) Still, the impact of networking online and offline is still being determined as researchers consider the amount of time spent with (and without) technology by youth all over the world.

Social Networking On the Internet

The ability to network socially through the Internet exists through a variety of avenues, a few more common ones being chat rooms, blogs, email, and social network sites. Preliminary research conducted by Baym & Lin (2004) sought to evaluate the Internet as a new avenue of communication often employed by college students in comparison to face-to-face and telephone communication. Their study showed that participants used the Internet to maintain social networks, but not exclusively or as the main source of information. Participants relied heavily on e-mail over any other form of social media to interact, but face-to-face communication remained the primary source of maintenance in almost all local-distant social networks. Since this study, researchers have found a much heavier reliance on CMC as a way to communicate with social networks, with over 95% of college students at single university having active accounts on Facebook (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007.)

Even more forms of online media were considered by Bryant, Sanders-Jackson, & Smallwood (2006) in their research on socially interactive technologies (SITs). The evolution of computer-mediated communication as a social network for adolescents led researchers to assess particular types of SITs, what they are being used for, and if that use differed from social networks for youth offline. Results from the research process suggested that there was little to no similarities between our online and offline social networks, and that youth were using SITs for a variety of things, ranging from an opportunity to say something they would not normally say in person due the anonymity of the Internet, to breaking up with their significant other or asking a new person out. Researchers admitted that their sample could not be suggested as representative of youth use given that only 60% of participants had ever used IM, and only 20% had used text messaging, but encouraged future research in the field to ask many of the same questions, and consider the responses offered from those who had participated in SIT use. Bryant et al concluded that from their results individuals find the mediated effect of the Internet as a buffer to having to interact socially in a face-to-face situation that could put them at risk for embarrassment or rejection. Manning & Ray (1993) establish early on in the literature that these fears are common among youth who are shy or otherwise have difficulties in social settings articulating their personal thoughts and/or feelings, validating the belief that the Internet is an outlet for the shy to communicate on a regular basis.

Shyness has already been established as a barrier to developing social ties, and as much of the current literature shows (Cummings, Butler, & Kraut, 2002), is something that is often overcome due in large part the anonymous nature of communicating over the Internet. The difference between shy people and non-shy people online versus offline was seven times greater in an offline context, indicating the usefulness of CMC for shy individuals. Results from one study indicated that CMC reduces shyness in individuals’ due a variety of things including anonymity, less risk of rejection, or perceived interpersonal competence. Researchers use the self-presentational theory to explain this phenomenon, citing a lack of visual and auditory cues as a reason why shy individuals have an easier time using CMC (Stritzke et al, 2004.) These results can be used to consider the connection between a low level of close friends offline (an indicator for a less outgoing individual) and the participation in social network sites.

Another area to take into consideration in regards to a larger online social network is a desire to be thought of as popular. Zywica & Danowski (2008) tested the social enhancement (“the rich get richer”) and the social compensation (“the poor get richer”) hypotheses on Facebook users to determine if popularity was a variable related to participation in the site. Do already popular individuals use Facebook to increase their popularity, or do individuals try to compensate for their lack of popularity through the website? As the researchers pointed out, what exactly it means to be “popular” is rarely universally defined. The results showed that number of friends is the highest indicator of popularity on the site. Both popular and unpopular participants referred to people who want to be popular on Facebook as “insecure” individuals, yet all still sought to be popular offline regardless. The findings showed that both social enhancement and social compensation are employed equally through Facebook, while it is worth note that popular user’s spent more time on the site ensuring their popularity through, for example, untagging pictures that made them look unattractive or deleting wall posts that spoke of the individual in an unfavorable way. Regardless of the cause for this disconnect, past studies suggest that there is a higher number of friends in online networks than offline, providing support for the following research question:

RQ1: Do individuals with fewer offline social networks have more friends online?

Social Networks Sites Defined

At this point the history of social network sites (SNS) on the Internet is limited. Social networking began its influence in the late 1990’s, but reached a critical mass soon after 2003 wherein major social sites were launched (Boyd & Ellison, 2007.) While many of the early networks failed, two sites, MySpace and Facebook, have received unprecedented levels of popularity. The development of SNS has enabled computer-mediated communication (CMC) to enter into a new world of research. boyd and Ellison (2007) define SNS as:

Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (p. 211.)

A profile typically consists of the same kinds of information: A picture of the user, his or her name (or pseudonym), the user’s likes, dislikes, and a list of users that can connect the viewer to anyone else the user knows; in the case of Facebook and MySpace these people are known as “friends.”

Social network sites are a distinct subset of CMC, wherein individuals are not forced into immediate communicative situations (chat rooms, IM) but have the opportunity to provide information about their self (the profile) as well as make comments to friends and strangers alike through wall posts or individual website chat capabilities.

The Facebook Phenomenon

Facebook continues to be the number one SNS. Currently, Facebook is the fourth most trafficked website on the Internet with 110 million active users; two-thirds of all Facebook users log onto the website at least once a day and those visits usually last for at least twenty minutes. It shows no signs of slowing down as the growth increases by around 250,000 users each day (Facebook Statistics, 2008.) Facebook’s original distinction from other social network sites was its originally closed nature. The website, created by a student at Harvard, was intended to cater to and serve the college population. Initially, a user had to have a university-affiliated email address to create a profile. This grew to include a separate high school version of Facebook, which merged with the original, and finally became a public access site in the past year (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007.) The original closed nature created an environment that fostered sharing information amongst and between college students across the country. Similarly, this environment existed high school students with their own version of Facebook, which required invitations from other high school students in the school to obtain a profile. Facebook’s quick emergence and dominance in the SNS market has made it an ideal market to evaluate SNS use and online versus offline social networks.

A desire to belong to a community leads many youth to become involved with SNS, and given its popularity, Facebook (Livingstone, 2008.) This desire to belong has lead to conforming standards of how to participate in the site ranging from the information shared to the number of friends added and over all use of the site, previous research in this particular area evaluated specific aspects of Facebook use in relation to the impact it has on observers’ perception of a profile. Results showed that both a high number of positive wall posts and attractive friends increased the perceived attractiveness of the users’ profile in almost all cases (Walther, Van Der Heide, Kim, Westerman, & Tong, 2008.) Walther et al. hypothesized that the phenomenon of attractiveness of wall posts and friends would explain why users’ friend a high number of people that they are not close with, so that they come across as more attractive to the network overall.

Research conducted by Tong, Van Der Heide, Langwell & Walther (2008) found that the feature on a profile that lists the number of friends one has illustrates how socially attractive a user is considered to be. A contrast existed between the numbers of friends a user has in real life (a dozen or so friends) indicated by participants as opposed to the high number of friends listed in online profiles (several hundred friends.) The study suggested that the “attractiveness of popularity” leads users to accept and request “friends” online that they would otherwise not offline. The research suggested that this perception is universal and that profiles with more friends were consistently found to be more attractive than those with fewer numbers listed. This desire to be received as socially desirable is yet another aspect of Facebook profiles that can be researched when assessing the quality of social networks in an online community; as Tong et al have suggested, it is likely that participants are creating more, but weaker ties as a way to elevate their perceived attractiveness to the rest of the community. Williams & Merten (2008) found contradictory results in their coding of SNS profiles. When looking at friend lists in comparison to recent wall posts the results suggested that there is a smaller network (n=194) and that the frequency that the network is talked to is a mean of 2.79 days. While wall posts are a valid indicator of communication, failure to establish a percent of the network talked to or ask the individuals’ whose profiles they analyzed the number of friends they interacted with in face-to-face situations makes the study more difficult to generalize about all SNS experiences. The combination of these previous studies sets up the following research question:

RQ2: Are users creating more, but weaker ties using Facebook?

Besides developing social networks, research suggests there are a variety of things that participants are using Facebook for. Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield (2006) conducted a study at the Michigan State University campus where they sought to ascertain the popularity of Facebook and what it was being used for. Over 1,000 first semester college students were surveyed. A second survey was administered the start of the following semester, with 1,085 students participating. In the first survey, 84% of respondents were Facebook users; as of the second survey, 95.5% of respondents were users, pointing to the sites growing popularity on college campuses within a short period of time. Respondents suggested that the people who most often viewed their profile were people they interacted with daily in person, contradicting Bryant et al (2006) who said that the people we communicate with online are separate from our face-to-face communication situations. This discrepancy gives rise to the following question for research:

RQ3: Does overlap exist between online and offline social networks?

Different uses of Facebook that were considered statistically significant in the Lampe et al. study included: keeping in touch with old friends, getting information about people from the dorm/sorority/fraternity, and checking out the profile of someone met in a social situation. A limitation to this research is that only a small list of possible uses for the site were offered to participants, and the site as grown in communication capabilities greatly since the research was conducted in 2005 (Facebook Statistics, 2008.) boyd (2008) discusses the results of her two-year long ethnography of users’ of the social network site, MySpace, as a way to understand what youth are using SNS for. The compilation of research found that many youth spent so much time on SNS because that was where their friends were. It becomes another outlet for socializing on a broader scale, with a secondary explanation from many teen participants of “because I was bored.” boyd dubs this practice “social voyeurism”— teens passing time on the site to curb boredom while gaining insight about how society works.

RQ4: What are participants of Facebook using the site for?

Method

Overview

An online survey was administered to Facebook users regarding their use of Facebook, and their development of social networks both online and offline. The decision to take a quantitative approach to answering the research questions was chosen as a way to ensure proper comparisons between this study and the earlier research conducted by Bryant et al. Respondents were first asked background questions, then questions about the quantity and quality of their offline social networks, and finally questions regarding what they use Facebook for and the quality and quantity of Facebook friendships.

Participants

Data was collected from anyone who had a Facebook account accessed during the two-week period the survey was online. Individuals were selected as part of a snowball sample of friends of the researcher, and friends of friends. The survey received a total of 234 responses. All participants were at least 18 years old, with a mean age falling in the 21-23 years old category. 96 participants were male, 138 were female. Over 80% of participants have had a Facebook account for at least two years.

Procedures

A web-based survey was uploaded and available to participants for two weeks. A Facebook group with a link to the online survey was then created and sent to all Facebook friends of the researcher, with an additional note asking them to forward the link to their friends to create the snowball effect.  The questions were divided into three sections: Background information, Close Friends, and Facebook Friends. Participants were asked to complete the survey to the best of their knowledge. On average the survey took less than ten minutes for participants to complete. The responses saved to a database to allow for statistical analysis of the research through overall comparison of answers, and the ability to subset responses to achieve statistics in relation to specific research questions.

Results

RQ1: Do individuals with fewer offline social networks have more friends online?

Of the participants who indicated having between one and four close friends (33.3%), more than half of them (52.2%) had at least 300 Facebook friends, and 25% of those users had 500 or more Facebook friends. Of participants who indicated having 15 or more close friends (15.4%), almost the exact same number (52.5%) had over 300 Facebook friends, but in contrast of those users 41.5% of them having 500 or more Facebook friends. This would seem to indicate that the fewer friends you have offline, the fewer you will have online; consistent with the “rich get richer” findings of Zywica & Danowski’s (2008) study. The social compensation hypothesis cannot be ruled out entirely however, given that individuals with only a few close friends are still Facebook friends with several hundred people. However, given that “close friend” was not operationalized, it is impossible to indicate whether individuals with only a few friends turn to the Internet to supplement their social networks. This discrepancy in the findings was discovered when over 30% of respondents indicated that they had 10 or more close friends, which given the previous literature base is a highly unlikely number. Further research regarding a comparison of close friends, friends, and acquaintances both online and offline will need to be conducted in order to determine whether or not shy individuals are using online social network sites to build social networks that do no exist in an offline environment.

RQ2: Are users creating more, but weaker ties using Facebook?

Previous research (Tong et al, 2008) recognized a trend wherein individuals perceived Facebook profiles that had a high number of friends as significantly more socially attractive than profiles with a low number of friends. The findings from the study showed that the number of close friends indicated by participants’ offline is significantly lower than the number of Facebook friends indicated. 21.7% of respondents indicated they had “more than 600” Facebook friends, while 58.2% had at least 300 friends or more on the social network site. Conversely, 55.9% of participants indicated having six or fewer close friends. That equates to well over 300 more friends online than offline. But, the number of those Facebook friends that participants talked to on a regular basis (or at all) was drastically lower in comparison. Close friends were communicated with regularly (4-5 times a week) or frequently (at least once a day) by more than 80% of respondents. Of the number of friends indicated on Facebook (anywhere from zero to more than 600) results showed that the higher the number of friends, the fewer of those friends was communicated with on a frequent or regular basis.

Additionally, participants were asked to compartmentalize their total number of Facebook friends and tell how many of those friends they spoke to on a frequent, regular, sometimes, rarely, or never basis. At least 50 friends were reported by users as being spoken to on a frequent or regular basis by 82% of the respondents. As the number of friends increased, the basis talked to decreased. At 200 friends the percent drops off to under 10% for frequent or regular, and to zero percent for frequent or regular for 400 friends.

These numbers alone would indicate that the ties being established online are quantitatively weaker than those offline, but responses from participants regarding what they used Facebook to communicate for in relation to what they talk about with their close friends shows that the website does not appear to establish communication for strong bonds. Participants were asked the open-ended question “What do you communicate about with your close friends?” One hundred and fifty-four of the participants took the opportunity to answer the question, and many of the responses were unsurprising. The most frequently talked about things with close friends included relationships, emotions, life, goals, and having a shoulder to cry on. One participant wrote: “Absolutely everything, most of my close friends attend college with me. We share secrets, laughter, tears, joy, and heartache…anything I need they have my back. Anything they need I have theirs.” Another participant said: “Usually when I communicate with my close friends (from high school) we are catching up on what is going on in our lives, retelling memories, and regular “girl talk” where we vent about things that are bothering us.”

The topics established by participants from this question show the need to have face-to-face communication on a series of subjects that are often considered unsuitable for broadcasting on the Internet. A computer cannot replace a shoulder to cry on, and venting about your friends over a social network site to another friend would likely only cause more trouble. While there is a trend to discuss previously coined “private” information publicly (Gross & Acquisti, 2006) there are still lines drawn that participants make it clear they aren’t crossing over the web.

RQ3: Does overlap exist between online and offline social networks?

Prior to this study almost no research on Facebook has assessed whether the ties we create online are the same ties established offline. Bryant et al (2006) researched other social interactive technologies (instant messaging and text messaging) and from their results reached the conclusion that there is little to no overlap between the people participants engaged in face-to-face conversation with and those they engaged through socially interactive technology. Results from the current study on online social networking revealed the opposite: over 80% of participants said that most or all of their close friends were also Facebook friends, with less than 1% indicating that none of their close friends were Facebook friends with them.

These numbers are consistent with the literature that suggested users of Facebook have perceptions of who views their profile (close friends, old high school friends, etc) and from those perceptions alter profiles accordingly (Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2006.) This would also partially validate Williams & Merten’s (2008) content analysis of SNS profiles that presumed that we have real life contact with the majority of our Facebook friends.

RQ4: What are participants of Facebook using the site for?

A compilation of potential uses of Facebook were listed as a final question for participants to check mark what they used the site for, with an option to add any other uses they might have for the site at the end of the question. Table 1 establishes the percentage of each variable that users indicated they participated in when using Facebook.

Table 1 What the participants do on Facebook

Keep in touch with friends                                                                 94%

Make plans with friends                                                                     74.3%

Ask someone out                                                                                5.9%

Write something you wouldn’t say in person                                     19.6%

Break up with someone                                                                      0%

Meet new friends                                                                                26.4%

Meet new romantic partners                                                               5.9%

Online dating                                                                                      1.7%

Check out people—to find out about them                                        57.2%

“Track” people—to see what they’re doing                                       59.8%

Advertise parties/social gatherings                                                     56.4%

Avoid socially uncomfortable situations                                            22.2%

Distraction/Procrastination                                                                 80.3%

Check up on current boyfriend/girlfriend                                           30.7%

Contact classmates                                                                              71%

Sources of information (addresses/email/phone numbers)                  65%

The most frequent uses of Facebook were the more obvious answers as already indicated through prior research: keeping in touch and making plans with friends. The high number of respondents that indicated “Distraction/Procrastination” (80.3%) would back up boyd’s (2008) research that many participants said they used Facebook so much because they were “bored.” Over 50% of participants indicated they use Facebook to check out people (57.2%) and track people (59.8%) to find out about them and see what they are doing. These numbers are indicative of the literature that suggests SNS becomes a way for people to learn about each other in a secure environment (Stritzke, Nguyen, & Durkin, 2004.) Finally worth mentioning is that while less than 2% of respondents chose to indicate alternative uses of Facebook outside the list given, a common response was “to look at pictures” or “check out pictures of people to see what I think of them.” Given that Facebook is the number one photo-sharing site on the Internet (Facebook Statistics, 2008) and that unflattering images keep “popular” people constantly checking out the latest images uploaded, future research regarding this aspect of Facebook is clearly warranted.

Discussion

The findings from this research suggest that SNS is used not only for a variety of reasons, but by a variety of people with both large and small offline networks. These results would indicate that much of the current literature on social network sites is validated: social network sites are creating more ties (which is not necessarily a bad thing), are providing users will another way to get into contact with their close friends, to express their relationship to their offline social network through a new venue, or as simply a place to go when bored and unsure of what else to do (Strizke et al, 2004, Ellison et al, 2007, & boyd, 2008.)

Limitations

No research is without limitations. The voluntary nature of the survey (with no compensation to participants) caused many individuals to start and not finish the survey, resulting in a variety of responses having to be thrown out for statistical analysis. Snowball samples are generally more difficult to generalize to the public at large, however in this particular case there appears to be enough difference in age, gender, and number of years of use of the site to suggest that a wide variety of users are represented through the study. Finally, there was a large jump between participants who indicated having just a few close friends in comparison to “over 15” close friends. Without a consistent operationalized definition of what “close friends” means, its possible participants might have responded to the question differently and functionally mooted the ability to answer the first research question posed in the study. This limitation however, becomes an opportunity for future research.

Future study

The results of this study indicate that Facebook has become a major aspect of the lives of a variety of individuals, being used to gather information about people, advertise for gatherings, or an opportunity to say something that might be harder to say in person, but with the mediation of a computer becomes easier for the user. The results can be used to create a list of questions to apply to in-depth interviews with Facebook users to hopefully explain why users are turning to Facebook for the variety of things they do, why they accept such a high number of friend requests, and finally, what it means to be a “close friend.” Answering these questions can aid in explaining what it is about social network sites that has people flocking to them by the millions each day.

An interesting development from responses made by participants raises the question of the different levels of Facebook friends. Rarely did participants talk to more than 50 of their Facebook friends on a frequent basis, and it could be easily hypothesized that had a lower number been possible to indicate that that would have been chosen over 50. So why are people “friending” over 500 people they never talk to? Walther & Boyd’s (2002) study in regards to Internet use by individuals who struggled to maintain social ties offline would suggest that these Facebook friends are the equivalent of all the every day networks you belong to—the people you work with, go to school with, know from family connections, etc. The chances that all of these people know each other are slim, much like in the world of Facebook where the profile will indicate overlap between friends’ networks (e.g. a box of links to profiles with the sentence you have X number of friends in common) separating the people you know that your friend knows from the people you don’t know. Future research regarding the different levels of Facebook friends from the types of friendships we develop in our offline networks would help to understand better the connections being made in a technologically advanced world.

Conclusion

The constantly evolving nature of social network sites make them an area that must be constantly studied, with each new researcher using the past considerations in conjunction with the developments implemented to the sites. This particular study chose to evaluate Facebook as an outlet for individuals for a variety of reasons, and to establish whom we are talking to on these sites, with what frequency we’re talking to them, and how strong those ties are. Clear benefits to being involved in SNS exist regardless of the socio-psychological characteristics of the user: Shy, non-shy, popular, unpopular—SNS has proven to be a universal tool to establish, build, and maintain relationships of all kinds. It’s prevalence in the lives of youth across the world make studying these sites an important area of research as we continue to understand the social world around us. The findings of this study open a door for a variety of future research possibilities on SNS as the field of communications expands to include interactions mediated by technology.

References

Baym, N. K., Zhang, Y. B., & Lin, M. (2004). Social interactions across media: Interpersonal

communication on the Internet, telephone and face-to-face. New Media & Society, 6(3),

299-318.

boyd, d. (2007) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics

in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth,

Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT

Press, 1-26.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and

scholarship.  Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

Bryant, J. A., Sanders-Jackson, A., & Smallwood, A. M. K. (2006). IMing, text messaging, and

adolescent social networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), article 10.

Cummings, J.N., Butler, B., & Kraut, R. (2002) The quality of online social relationships.

Communication of the ACM, 45(7), 103-108.

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(4), article 1.

Facebook Statistics (2008). Retrieved September 21, 2008, from

http://www.new.facebook.com/friends/#/press/info.php?statistics

Giordano, P.C. (1995) The wider circle of friends in adolescence. The American Journal of

Sociology, 101(3), 661-697.

Gross, R., & Acquisti, A. (2005). Information revelation and privacy in online social

networks. Paper presented at the WPES’05, Alexandria, Virginia.

Lampe, C., Ellison, N., & Steinfield, C., (2006). A Face(book) in the crowd: Social searching

vs. social browsing. Proceedings of the 2006 20th Anniversary Conference on

Computer Supported Cooperative Work (pp. 167-170). New York: ACM Press.

Livingstone, S. (2008). Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of

social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New Media and

Society, 10(3), 393-411.

Livingstone, S. & Helsper, E.J. (2007) Taking risks when communication on the Internet: the

role of offline social-psychological factors in young people’s vulnerability to online risks.

Information, Communication & Society, 10(5), 619-644.

Manning, P., & Ray, G. (1993). Shyness, self-confidence, and social interaction. Social

Psychology Quarterly, 56(3), 178-193.

Mesch, G., & Talmud, I. (2006). The quality of online and offline relationships: the role of

multiplexity and duration of social relationships. The Information Society, 22.

Stritzke, W. G., Nguyen, A., & Durkin, K. (2004). Shyness and computer-mediated

communication: A self-presentational theory perspective . Media Psychology, 6, 1-22.

Tong, S. T., Van Der Heide, B., Langwell, L., & Walther, J. B. (2008). Too Much of a Good

Thing? The Relationship Between Number of Friends and Interpersonal Impressions on

Facebook. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(2), 531-549.

Waldrip, A. M., Malcolm, K. T., & Jensen-Campbell, L. A. (2008). With a little help from your

friends: the importance of high-quality friendships on early adolescent adjustment .

Social Development, 17(4), 832-852.

Walther, J. B., and Boyd, S. (2002). Attraction to computer-mediated social support. In

Communication technology and society: Audience adoption and uses, ed. C. A. Lin and

D. Atkin, 153–188. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Walther, J. B., Van Der Heide, B., Kim, S., Westerman, D., & Tong, S.T. (2008). The role of

friends’ appearance and behavior on evaluations of individuals on Facebook: are we

known by the company we keep? Human Communication Research, 34, 28-49.

Williams, A.L., & Merten, M.J. (2008). A review of online social networking profiles by

adolescents: Implications for future research and intervention. Adolescence, 43(170),

253-275.

Zywica, J. & Danowski, J. (2008) The faces of Facebookers: investigating social enhancement

and social compensation hypotheses; predicting Facebook and offline popularity from

sociability and self-esteem, and mapping the meanings of popularity with semantic

networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14(1), 1-34.

Appendix

Questionnaire

  1. Age:

[  ] 18-20

[  ] 21-23

[  ] 24-27

[  ] 28 and up.

  1. Gender:

[  ] Male

[  ] Female

  1. How long have you been a member of Facebook?

[  ] less than 6 months

[  ] 1 year

[  ] 2 years

[  ] 3 years

[  ] over 3 years

  1. Please indicate how many close friends you have:

[  ] 0

[  ] 1-2

[  ] 3-4

[  ] 5-6

[  ] 7-8

[  ] 9-10

[  ] 11-12

[  ] 13-14

[  ] 15 or more.

  1. How often do you communicate with your close friends?

[  ] Frequently (at least once a day)

[  ] Regularly (4-5 times a week)

[  ] Sometimes (less than once a week)

[  ] Rarely (less than once a month)

[  ] Other (Please specify) _______________________________________.

  1. Please use the space below to indicate what you communicate about with your close friends:
  1. Please indicate how many Facebook friends you have:

[  ] under 50

[  ] 51-100

[  ] 101-150

[  ] 151-200

[  ] 201-250

[  ] 251-300

[  ] 301-350

[  ] 351-400

[  ] 401-450

[  ] 451-500

[  ] 501-550

[  ] 551-600

[  ] more than 600

  1. Of my Facebook friends I speak to _______ number of them on the following basis:

Frequently       Regularly         Sometimes       Rarely              Never

0-50                [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

51-100             [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

101-150           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

151-200           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

201-250           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

251-300           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

301-350           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

351-400           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

401-450           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

451-500           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

501-550           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

551-600           [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

more than 600 [  ]                   [  ]                    [  ]                 [  ]                     [  ]

  1. Are the people you indicated as your close friends also Facebook friends?

[  ] Yes, all of them.

[  ] Yes, most of them.

[  ] Yes, some of them.

[  ] No, none of them.

10.  Please check which of the following you use Facebook for:

[  ] Keep in touch with friends

[  ] Make plans with friends

[  ] Ask someone out

[  ] Write something you wouldn’t say in person

[  ] Break up with someone

[  ] Meet new friends

[  ] Meet new romantic partners

[  ] Online dating

[  ] Check out people- to find out about them.

[  ] “Track” people- to see what they’re doing.

[  ] Advertise parties/social gatherings.

[  ] Avoid socially uncomfortable situations.

[  ] Distraction/Procrastination.

[  ] Check up in current significant other.

[  ] Contact classmates.

[  ] Source of information (addresses/email/phone numbers)

[  ] Other (please specify) ___________________________________________