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The Effect of Facebook Use on Family Relationships (Dissertation Sample)


SECTION 4. Discussion/Application/ Conclusion
SECTION 5. Presentation of the Final Project

SECTION 4. Discussion/Application/ Conclusion
Findings from the survey of Facebook users (N=364) on the role Facebook plays in relationship indicate that Facebook users engage in a variety of reasons for staying connected on the site (see the full survey results attached in Appendix A). See Table 1 below for the most common role Facebook plays in a relationship with a family member.
Table 1: Common role Facebook plays in a relationship with a family member from the survey
Items No. of Responses
1: Facebook is a convenient way to stay in touch with (person’s name). 58
2: Facebook keeps me up to date on (person’s name)'s life. 42
3: Because of Facebook, I feel like I know what's going on in (person’s 39
name)'s life.
4: Facebook makes it easy for me to keep in touch with (person’s name). 24
5: Because of Facebook, I feel like I know what (person’s name) has
been up to, even when we haven't interacted in a while. 23
6: Facebook makes me feel closer to (person’s name). 17
7: Facebook has positively impacted my relationship with (person’s
name). 15
8: Facebook helps me understand (person’s name) better. 19
9: Interacting with (person’s name) through Facebook makes me feel like
I know him/her better. 29
10: Being Facebook Friends with (person’s name) has improved our
relationship. 59
Most participant`s indicated the most reasons for using Facebook is for relationship maintenance purposes. For example, one of the participants said she used the Facebook site to reconnect with old friends and “keep in touch,” socially surveill (through passive consumption of content), and communicate with others. Consequently, most users’ reasons for using the site should—to some extent—reflect relationship maintenance identified in previous research in offline (Stafford, 2010) and online (Rabby, 2007) contexts.
The findings from the survey suggest that close relationships do not benefit the most from being connected on the site; rather, those who primarily rely on Facebook to interact, those who live at a greater physical distance from each other, and weaker ties see the site as having the greatest positive impact on the quality of their relationship. In this way, while Facebook may serve a supplemental role for closer relationships—similar to Hampton and Wellman’s (2001) findings about email more than a decade ago—findings suggest the site may actually serve to enhance the quality of weaker relationships and prevent those connections from fading away completely.
First, when considering Facebook’s potential impact on relationship processes, researchers have recently suggested that social media contain a unique set of affordances that differentiate them from other forms of FMC (Boyd, 2010; Treem & Leonardi, 2012). For example, interactions between Friends on FB may be visible to a user’s entire Friend network and persist long after that interaction takes place—and can be added to and updated at a later time. Furthermore, connections on these sites are formally associated through “Friending,” while all content users create and post are associated to their names. Consequently, the highly persistent, visible, and connected nature of interaction on FB likely impacts relationship maintenance practices; for example, in studying teens’ FB practices, Boyd and Marwick (2011) identified a set of strategies teens employed on Facebook and other social media sites to maintain privacy while sharing content with the public and/or their other connections on the site. Finally, when studying interactions facilitated through FB—which are largely based on quick and convenient communication rather than the lengthy, more complex interaction patterns associated with in-depth disclosures—researchers must begin to expand their conceptualization of what kinds of behaviors constitute relationship maintenance. For example, Liking is the most frequently performed behavior by Facebook users (Hampton et al., 2011), most likely because of the low effort in time and cognition associated with clicking the Like button on a Friend’s status, link, video, or photo. Tong and Walther (2011) note that these kinds of behaviors are reminiscent of the passing of “virtual tokens” between two relational partners and could be comparable—to some extent—to engaging in a shared activity, which has long been identified as a primary form of relationship maintenance.
Second, when considering relationship maintenance research broadly, studies have
consistently relied on samples of close-tie relationships and measures—like Stafford and Canary’s (1991) Relationship Maintenance Strategy Measure—that are biased toward
geographically proximate dyads. In the framework of close ties such as spouses, the focus of
much of the initial research, measures that assessed the extent to which partners shared
housework and interacted with each other’s family made sense; however, these same measures
have continued to be applied in subsequent years, both among non-intimate dyads and in online
settings, raising questions about the validity of some of the items. For example, in his study of
individuals who maintained primarily and exclusively Internet-based relationships, Wright
(2004) found that a significant proportion of people listed a strategy other than one of Stafford
and Canary’s (1991) as the most important strategy for maintaining their relationship. With FB,
these measures may be even less inappropriate, considering the average users’ Friend network in the U.S. contains 229 connections (Hampton et al., 2011). Considering the number of
meaningful relationships individuals can cognitively maintain (Dunbar, 1995), this means that
the site is potentially being used to maintain a much larger percentage of weaker ties than
stronger ties. Therefore, measures structured to reflect strong-tie relationships would seem
insufficient. Furthermore, as with any form of FMC, a benefit of Facebook is that it removes
geographic constraints to relationship maintenance; therefore, measures structured to reflect
geographic proximity would also seem insufficient.
This term paper contributes to existing research on family and consumer science (FMC) in two important and distinct ways. First, it extends our understanding of the role social network sites such as Facebook play in relationship. Second, it directly addresses two challenges FMC researchers have faced when measuring relationship—and acknowledges that these technologies enable people to maintain a variety of relationships in new ways because of the technical structure of the sites and the lowered transaction costs to interaction.
As we move forward in this area of research, it is essential that researchers acknowledge the affordances of technology and consider how individuals may be using specific features of technology—whether it is the asynchronous nature of email or the view-when-you-like component of passive consumption on social network sites— to manage both close connections as well as ties that may have otherwise faded away without technology. With these factors in mind, the term paper explored the development of Facebook-specific relationship maintenance strategies: Supportive Communication, Shared Interests, Social Information Seeking, and Passive Consumption. These relationship strategies both reflect the long tradition of scholarship on relationship maintenance and acknowledge the unique ways in which relationships can be maintained through the site. While three strategies identified through this analysis are non-medium specific, the fourth, Passive Consumption, reflects behaviors almost exclusively afforded by technology—as one could argue that a person could passively consume information about another by observing them at a local restaurant or park (an uncertainty reduction strategy noted by Berger & Bradac, 1982). Passive strategies were also identified as one of four online information-seeking strategies in research by Ramirez, Walther, Burgoon, and Sunnafrank (2002); in their work, the focus was on information that could be drawn about another through mediated channels without that person’s knowledge, such as being blind-carbon copied on an email or “lurking” on a message board.
This research concludes that existing research on computer mediated communication impacts relationship maintenance in two important and distinct ways. First, it extends our understanding of the role newer communication technologies such as Facebook plays in the relationship maintenance process. Second, it directly addresses two challenges computer mediated communication researchers have faced when measuring relationship maintenance—the focus on strong tie relationships and strategies requiring proximity—and acknowledges that these technologies enable people to maintain a variety of relationships in new ways because of the technical structure of the sites and the lowered transaction costs to interaction.
It is also expected that the affordances of the technology (Boyd, 2010; Treem & Leonardi, 2012) enable users to engage in maintenance behaviors that were previously more difficult or not possible without the technology. Researchers have noted that Facebook reduces the temporal and spatial constraints to communication (Boyd, 2008; Rabby, ...
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