Category: Sociology
Sociology of Virtual Communities and Social Media

Currently, the emergence of virtual communities and online space has become a real threat to offline relations because more and more users prefer using social networks for establishing new friendships. Indeed, the Internet has become an inherent part of people’s life. People now do not have time for face-to-face communication and can chat with their friends by means of Twitter, Skype, and Facebook. However, there is a potential threat that online communication will never transfer to offline relations, increasing the chances of solitary and separated interaction. Facebook and other social networks could become a serious obstacle for a person to start up real-to-life relationships. Although the major purposes of all social networks are establishing communication at a distance and sharing videos and photos, it is still essential to define goals pursued by users in virtual communities. Facebook could be chosen as the major social network through which users communicate.

Literature Review

The influence of virtual communities on real life is underexplored, particularly nowadays, when social networks are also used for business and advertising purposes. There are different research studies dedicated to the analysis of the nature of relationships in social networks, the major users, their purposes, as well as the probability of using social networks for transferring online communication to face-to-face interaction.

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Before understanding the importance of virtual communities, it is essential to define their veritable destination, as well as how they affect non-virtual life. In the studies by Wellman and Gulia (1997), attention has been paid to perceptions of computer-mediated environments as a means of communication. The authors have questioned the possibility of searching for real-to-life communities by means of online resources. The research has been conducted almost two decades ago; therefore, this scientific investigation provides more information about the evolution of social networks and online communities as the first attempt to develop a new form of socialization. According to the researchers, “computer-supported social networks…come in a variety of types such as electronic mail…bulletin board system, multi-user dungeons…, newsgroups and Internet Relay Chat”. Therefore, a computer-mediated environment provides companionship, a sense of identity, and information availability. In response to the value and nature of online relationships, the authors have argued that the Internet has become the major medium, generating specialized relationships. It supports both cooperative and market techniques to seek social resources for developing virtual communities.

Prior to the emergence of social networks in the online space, they have been considered from the traditional viewpoint several decades ago. To be more exact, Granovetter (1973) has conducted an in-depth analysis of social networks, including their nature, structure, and possible connections in the real world. Apparently, this form of interaction is also used in online communication networks. Specifically, the scholar argues, “it is through these networks that small-scale interaction becomes translated into large patterns and that these, in turn, feedback into small groups”. Sociometry could be considered as the precursor to network analysis because it plays an important role in sociological theory. Additionally, the author attains much importance to the strength of interpersonal relationships to show how this aspect can relate to such macro-level issues as social mobility, social cohesion, diffusion, and political organization. Although the research had been carried over forty years before, its theoretical foundations could still be applicable to the current analysis of social networks and online interaction.

Our Process

Currently, modern social networks have changed the patterns of communication even in real life. At this point, Burke, Marlow, and Lento (2010) refer to such phenomena as “likes”, comments, posts, friends’ conversations. According to the authors, “directed communication is associated with greater feelings of bonding social capital and lower loneliness, but has only a modest relationship with bridging social capital, which is primarily related to overall friend network size”. Additionally, there has been a range of interesting statistical and qualitative findings regarding Facebook attendance. Based on the surveys and standard deviation analysis, “participants’ self-reports of friend counts were highly correlated with actual friend counts (r=96), most likely because the value is easy to find on one’s Facebook home page”. Surprisingly, the authors have also discovered that people feel the differences between the social communication they have and individuals they want to spend more time contemplating other interactions.

It should be admitted that the question of online sociality is controversial because online communication differs significantly from face-to-face interaction. In fact, the latter is much more spontaneous and reveals the speakers’ skills and individuality. In contrast, online communication creates a sort of boundary between the speakers. Therefore, the contemporary purposes of online networks are ambiguous. Interesting assumptions could be made while analyzing the number and profile of users’ friends. At this point, Tufekci (2010) has introduced an interesting research study that focuses on the psychological traits that could be defined by people’s profiles on social networks. The variables refer to ethnic groups, users with different income status, introvert and extrovert, and professional affiliation. More importantly, there are specific distinctions, which different social networks from face-to-face socialization in terms of the trust, face-to-face interaction, body language, emotions, shared experience and the conversation itself. The results have revealed, the odds of having met a new friend through social media use is independent of almost all demographic variable, except being an African-American, the number of offline friends, time spent on the Internet, use of the Internet for instrumentally communicative purposes such as instant messaging.

As a result, the researchers have managed to receive sufficient information regarding the purposes, goals, procedures, and peculiarities of online communication in contrast to real-life.

Our Benefits

There are many aspects and peculiarities of human behavior in a virtual space, leading to a number of questions and concerns. In particular, Rheingold (2008) questions whether there is a certain generation of humans engaged in a computer-mediated world or there is a general tendency of online transformations. The fact that the development of online communication networks has given rise to other spheres of economic, social, and political development is undeniable. The role played by communication technologies is tangible because they introduce a new means of information spread. Furthermore, social networks allow users to learn more about new trends in communication, as well as in other spheres of social life. Specifically, Rheingold (2008) assumes, “more important than civilizing cyberspace is ensuring its freedom as a citizen-to-citizen communication and publication medium” (p. 193). Therefore, there are laws of freedom and equality in communication that are more likely to be introduced. Anyway, there should be more concerns with the behavioral patterns of online networking and socialization.

Research Hypothesis

Online users seek to find new friends and enter new communities via Facebook.

Research Methodology

The research design is more typical of mixed methodological research that introduces both qualitative and quantitative information because it comprises the survey results and the literature review. The survey results will be based on the responses of 30 participants who will be chosen to define whether users seek new friendships and communities rather than increasing their popularity. The survey is composed of different types of questions to define the percentage of users who prefer using online services to face-to-face communication. There are many approaches to scientific analysis, but the surveys could provide greater reliability to the paper and introduce interesting additions to the theoretical frameworks presented in the literature reviews.

The qualitative part relates to the literature review and survey results. Specifically, the overview of scholarly journals and sources has revealed new approaches to management. For instance, the historic overview of communication networks explains the current state of social networks presented in a virtual space. Actually, one might admit that there is almost no difference between those networks, but for several details. To begin with, the analysis of the literature review will highlight different aspects and features of social networks used for diverse purposes, including commercial and educational. There is also a certain group of users, who tend to use Facebook or Twitter more frequently.

There are different approaches, which could be used for estimating the results, highlighting the thematic nodes, and answering the hypothesis. The major focus groups could be identified in terms of their ethnic affiliation, social income status, and frequency of using online networks. This differentiation will help to define whether groups use social networks for arranging new acquaintances and friendships. The surveys in this context could become a valuable addition to clarifying the results and increase the validity of the study. The combination of qualitative and quantitative methods could provide new tools for measuring the nature of social network communication, as well as the patterns of socialization in an online space.

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