Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Online social networking

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Online social networking:
What motivates participation and how does it make people feel?

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Online social network sites (OSNs), such as Facebook and Twitter, are used daily by billions of people for numerous reasons, with many consequences. Use of OSNs have started and ended careers, introduced new lovers and broken-up marriages. They have provided access to people who we would only have dreamed of speaking with 10 years ago, and given new meaning to journalism and gossip.

As a recent form of communication, OSNs have had an enormous impact on how people interact, develop, maintain, and begin relationships. They have also altered the way we learn, and how we access and engage with news and current affairs. Online social network sites have not only seen corporations employ them in marketing strategies, but also altered the way companies interact with their customers. ONSs, like any new form of technology, are and will continue to be followed by numerous and often unknown psychological, legal, and cultural shifts.

The purpose of this chapter to is explain the motivations underlying participation in using online social networks and to examine associated emotional responses. The chapter seeks to provide guidance about healthy use of online social network sites based on psychological theory and research.

What is an online social network?[edit | edit source]

An online social network (OSN) has been defined as:

For the purpose of this chapter, and as defined by Boyd and Ellison (2007), the term "social network site" has been used to describe this phenomenon.[1] While both "social networking sites" and "social network sites" are used in public discourse interchangeably. The use of "networking" emphasises the notion of initiation a relationship between two strangers. While this is possible on these sites, it is not the primary use of them or the scope of this chapter.

Examples of OSNs include Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Wikis and locality-based phone applications. For more information on OSNs see list of social networking websites.

Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivations for using OSNs are both varied and dependent on individual preferences [3]. Many factors such as age, gender, culture, technological expertise[4] and socio-economic factors influence the many reasons that one may use OSNs. These sites perform many functions from instant messaging to playing games with a group of friends. Each OSN service provides its users with a range of ways to socially interact which are unique to that site. These many factors make it hard to determine a single theory or motivation for using OSNs, as each platform and service will be likely to offer its own motivations and reasons for use. Personality traits, as well as the kind of relationships a user has with others, will also influence the motivation for using these sites[factual?].

Participants' main motivation for using OSNs is to stay in contact with friends[5]. These sites are used to get in contact with or develop new friendships, keep in touch with old friends and to socialise with others when not in their immediate presence. The effect of abstaining from OSNs often leads to social exclusion as many offline social events are organised online[6] (see friendship for more information). As a motivation, the ability to socialise and keep in contact with friends satisfies a user's need for belongingness[7] and provides users with a great social support network[8][9].

Participating in OSNs allows participants to explore themselves, provides the ability for users to maintain self-presentation, and it has also been found to influence user’s self-esteem[7][10]. A study conducted by Stanone, Lackaff and Rosen (2011) found that behaviours in how a user participates in OSNs can be explained by looking at a user’s contingency of self-worth. [3][explain?]. As a motivation for using OSNs, the influence that OSNs has on one’s self construct is an interconnected process with one’s behaviour[factual?].

Participation in OSNs provides users with a sense of satisfaction; with any form of social activity being an important predictor of life satisfaction [8]. Satisfaction from using these sites is not directly related to how people use it, but rather it is linked to the motivation to socialise through OSNs. A study by Kim, Kim and Nam (2010) found that those who are highly concerned with relationships and their surroundings are more motivated to enhance their social relationships, and enjoy greater satisfaction from their use. [11]. Hence, these sites provide a convenient and instant environment for users to connect and socialise.

What draws people to use Online Social Network sites?[edit | edit source]

Research into the behaviour and reasons that draw people to using OSNs has found peer pressure to be a major influence [7]. This is no surprise considering the major role OSNs have on offline social interactions, and how OSNs are identified as an addition to offline social relationships. Interestingly, these social influences not only motivate a new user to start interacting online they also influence how s/he uses OSNs. For example, through social learning, new users whose friends share more content will themselves contribute more content[factual?]. Furthermore, the feedback and distribution that a new user received on their initial content will influence their future contribution rates[12].

Theory of mood management suggests that people are motivated to make entertainment choices that will help them to diminish or terminate negative moods and to extend and enhance good moods. [8] It has also been found that the internet is a good mood producer and a bad mood releaser[8]. Thus, online games and socialising online can distract people to help build pleasant moods.[8]

What pushes people away from using Online Social Network sites?[edit | edit source]

As much as social pressure may influence a new user, there are many reasons why people do not use OSNs. A study conducted by Baker and White (2011) on adolescent's reasons for not using OSNs identified the following six reasons for not using them:

  1. lack of motivation;
  2. poor use of time or too distracting;
  3. a preference for other forms of communication (i.e., talking on the phone);
  4. a preference to engage in other activities (ie. sports);
  5. fear of social comparison; and,
  6. cybersaftey concerns.[13]

Additionally, the issue of privacy has been identified as a major concern for people not using OSNs[factual?].

Do personality factors influence motivation for Online Social Network site usage?[edit | edit source]

Many studies have found that personality factors influence people's usage of OSNs[11][8]. However, Ross et al. (2009) found that personality factors were not as influential as previous literature would suggest[4]. The main personality trait that influences online social activity is extraversion/introversion. Interestingly, extraverts are not associated with having more friends[4], and a study conducted by Orr et al (2009) found that shyness was positively correlated with the amount of time spent on OSNs.[14] These findings are consistent with the use of OSNs being used for self-exploration, and providing a place for people to explore different identities (see online profiles below).

Using Online Social Network sites[edit | edit source]

There are many social, psychological, and ethical issues that have developed with the emergence of OSNs. This section provides an overview of some of those issues, looking at user's behaviour and use of OSNS, and providing some practical cautions to consider when socialising online. Additionally this section holds a focus on the emotional responses when using OSNs, with particular interest in the selected areas chosen to overview.

Friendships[edit | edit source]

OSNs have been found to support and maintain friendships[15][6], with OSNs primarily use among younger people being a way to develop friendships, not as a means to make new ones [6]. For example, a study conducted by Jacobsen and Forste (2011) found that there was an association between the use of OSNs, talking on mobile phones and and interacting with others in person[9]. Interestingly, in the incident of friend's death, adolescence have used OSNs as a way to prolonging an attachment with the deceased, and to facilitate with coping in a way that grants unlimited freedom and opportunity to reflect back over their relationship with the deceased[16]

People's interactions with OSNs are influence by those they friend and connect with online, with users continuously monitoring and adapting to others online presence [12] As well as being the main reason for using OSNs online connections can also cause emotional strain between people. For example, the process of ignoring a friendship request or unfriending someone online often causes negative emotional responses[17]. Interestingly, unfriending has been found to be caused by both online and offline reasons motivate the decision to break a connection. Four online reasons have been identified, being unimportant/frequent posts, polarising posts, inappropriate posts, and everyday life posting, and there were two causes for offline reasons, being disliked and changes in the relationship.[18]

Privacy[edit | edit source]

Privacy is a major concern in relation to the use of OSNs, with personal information that can be used against a user, if in the wrong hands, being freely posted by people everyday. The impact of privacy issues can cause emotional strain on an individual, and can impact on the motivation for using online social network sites[factual?]. Although a major issue around OSNs, little is yet known about whether users read or are aware of the privacy policy of OSNs [10]. Either way, teenagers willingly and regularly post personal information about themselves on OSNs [10] [19]

Most social networking sites provide tools for users to control or alter their privacy settings. This may give the option to limit the information a user posts to just their online connections or to certain people [5]. The default setting on most sites is for the profile to be seen by the maximum number of people. However the ability to adjust and the frequency of using privacy settings seems to be dependent on the user's familiarity of technology and OSNs [20] This suggests that the most vulnerable are those who haven't had much experience with OSNs. Interestingly, it has been found that users cull and monitor their friendships as a measure to control their privacy [6], and that the friendships that people do accept online is based on trust.

With or without privacy settings, it is strongly suggested that any material people place online do so with the understanding that it is made public. A study conducted by Miller, Parsons abd Lifer (2010) found that although students knew that the information that they placed online could potential harm their future employment prospect, they still posted socially undesirable content. Interestingly, younger generations portray employers looking over their online profiles as a form of privacy breach[17] which may suggest the reason why they post more information and social undesirable content. It also seems that teenagers don't identify the content they post as an immediate threat. This is exemplified in the same study which showed that when students got closer to employment their content became more socially acceptable[5]. Even with privacy settings, when using OSNs, it is always suggest to consider the information that one places online as a public statement.

Things to Consider

Privacy and personal information on OSNs

  • Do you know your current OSNs privacy settings?
  • Is the content you post appropriate?
  • Do you consider the audience when posting?

Online profiles[edit | edit source]

OSNs encourage users to create a profile. This is usually a space to write a short biography and place information about employment, education and interests. These profiles are a way to give others an understanding of a user's life, and they encourage new friendships and help users to connect with others. Interestingly, people who use OSNs are virtually clueless[explain?] when it comes to identifying what their online profile says about them[21]: do you know what your profile says about you?

Based on interactions with online profiles, people make social comparisons with other users [22] and as a form of expression and discovery, the use of both OSNs and the internet allows people to create new identities and explore their own. It comes as no surprise then that teenagers use OSNs as a place for personal expression and a means to explore different identities[10]. Profiles usually showcase information that a user deems important. However, it has been found that information a user places on their profile is either honest or subtly fabricated to show one's identity as more favourable[23]. In fact, the social pressure and comparison of OSNs has been identified as one of the main reasons that discourages young teenagers from using these sites[13].

Interestingly, the profile a user writes is not the only way people determine or make judgment about a user: the general chit-chat and interaction that occurs online provides a trail of cues that help to determine a person's character [24]. This is the kind of material which employers look for when using OSNs as a screening process (see privacy above). Although considered a 'safe-place' amongst trusted friends, the reality is OSNs users don't actually know who is viewing their online profile.

Things to Consider

What does your Online profile say about you?

  • Is your content publicly visible?
  • Are there any socially undesirable photos tagged or shown?
  • What group and interests groups are connected to your profile?

Photo tagging[edit | edit source]

The amount of photos taken of everyday life has increased with the ever growing access of capture devices (such as smartphones) and a decrease in storage and printing costs. In addition to sharing photos through blogs and via e-mail, sites such as flickr or Picasa, allow users to upload photos and share them alike. These photo sharing sites, along with other social network sites like Facebook, allow users to tag people, venues and events in photos.

There are multiple motivations behind the use of tagging photos, with social incentives being an important factor for users to utilise tagging functions. These motivations can be identified as communication or organisational purposes of one's photos: extending from a user's individual use such as remembering events, sharing an experience or event with a social group, or expressing a public comment or opinion. [25]

The use of identification tags can have many social and negative consequences. For example, there has been a rise in legality issues in the United States with photos of underage drinking with identification tags placing evidence of such events in the public domain [10]. There is also concern over undesirable photos hindering people's opportunities for future and current employment. Interestingly, even those these events may hinder a person's social integrity, the act of 'dis-tagging' oneself from a photo has been identified as one of the biggest negative events to occur on OSNs [17]

Tagging has become a major part in the process of communication and associating with others via OSNs.

Things to Consider

Before you tag ask yourself:

  • Is the photo being tagged appropriate for public viewing?
  • Would you like to be tagged if this was you in the photo?
  • Does the photo depict any illegal activities?

Summary[edit | edit source]

OSNs are online websites which provide the ability for users to create a profile and interact with one another. This chapter aimed to provide an overview of the motivational reasons for using OSNs and to provide some practical guidance by looking at issues and components of OSNs and their emotional responses.

Although the motivational reasons for using OSNs are varied and dependent on the individual user, the main reason for their use can be identified as for social reasons, self-worth, and satisfaction. It has been identified that peer pressure is the main reason why people start using OSNs, and that these sites help to build pleasant moods. Many emotional reasons caused by using OSNs stop or push people away form using them, these include preference in communication type, preference in leisure activities and concerns around privacy and cyber-safety. Personality factors have also been found to influence people's motivations for using OSNs.

Many emotional responses from using OSNs surround certain components of their use. This chapter looked at the concept of online friendships, privacy, online profiles and photo tagging. It was identified that unfriending someone is one of the major emotional events that can occur online, followed by the occurrence of not having a friendship request accepted. The issue of privacy was identified with the willing[explain?] and amount of information users place on OSNs. The way users view this information is changing as they move towards the work industry, caused by the threat of potential employers using OSNs profiles to screen candidates as a major concern.

Online profiles provide a way for users to give an overview of themselves and their interests. Interestingly, material posted on online profiles are either completely honest or slightly fabricated to present the user in a better light. With the use of online profiles, users are continuously making social comparisons with other users. Furthermore, online profiles are used as self-expression and provide teenagers with the ability to experiment with their identity. Photo tagging is motivated for three reasons: organisation, communication and to share content. Social issues have arisen with the use of photo tagging, such as the evidence of legal issues being placed in public sight.

With overviewing the motivation and emotional responses related to issues and concepts around OSNs, it is hoped that readers will be able to identify why they use and how their use of OSNs might effect them.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x
  2. Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. Journal of Cyber Psychology and Behaviour, 7(3), 321-326.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stefanone, M., Lackaff, D., & Rosen, D. (2011) Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior. CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(1-2), 41-49. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0049
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Ross, C., Orr, E., Arseneault, J., Simmering, M., & Orr, R. (2009). Personality and motivations associated with Facebook use. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 578–586. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.024
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Miller, R., Parsons, K., & Lifer, D. (2010). Students and social networking sites: the posting paradox. Behaviour & Information Technology, 29(4), 377-382. Doi: 10.1080/01449290903042491
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Robards, B. (2010). Randoms in my bedroom: Negotiating privacy and unsolicited contact on social network sites. PRism 7(3):
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  9. 9.0 9.1 Jacobsen, W. & Forste, R. (2011). The Wired Generation: Academic and Social Outcomes of Electronic Media Use Among University Students. CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(5), 275-280. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0135
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Timm, D. M. & Duven, C. J. (2008). Using Emerging Technologies to Enhance Student Engagement. New Directions for Student Services. 124, 89-102. doi:10.1002/ss.297
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  14. Orr, S., Sisic, M., Ross, C., Simmering, M., Arseneault, J. & Orr, R. (2009) The Influence of Shyness on the Use of Facebook in an Undergraduate Sample. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(3), 337-340. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2008.0214
  15. 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.
  16. Williams, A., & Merten, M. (2009). Adolescents’ Online Social Networking Following the Death of a Peer. Journal of Adolescence research, 24(10), 67-90. doi:10.1177/0743558408328440
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Tokunaga, R. (2011). Friend Me or You’ll Strain Us: Understanding Negative Events That Occur over Social Networking Sites. CyberPsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 14(7), 425-432. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0140
  18. Sibon, C. & Walcza, S. (2011). Unfriending on Facebook: Friend Request and Online/Offline Behavior Analysis
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