Fun With Headlines: Is Social Networking Good Or Bad For Friendship?

from the how-about-neither... dept

Headline writers for the press are always trying to generate some attention, but it’s amusing when they present a headline that seems to go entirely against what’s said in the actual article. Professor Nancy Baym, who has been studying the power of online communities, discovered this when her latest research was released. Marketwatch ran a press release about her research declaring: Social networking, not for real friends, which certainly seems attention grabbing, if it were not for the fact that her research doesn’t say that at all. What the research actually notes is that you may have weak relationships focused on a narrow topic, with folks you connect with on various social networks — but it also notes how that’s a good thing. She doesn’t say that social networks aren’t for real friends, even if that’s what the headline reads.

Amusingly, another article covering the exact same bit of research runs with a different headline: Facebook friend collectors ‘are normal’ — (suggesting the opposite of the Marketwatch headline) and quoting Baym:

"You can ask somebody, ‘Of your 300 Facebook friends how many are actually friends?’ and people will say, ‘Oh, 30 or 40 or 50.’ But what having a lot of weak-tie relationships is giving you access to are a lot of resources that you wouldn’t otherwise have…. They can really open up access to resources that we wouldn’t have otherwise."

That doesn’t sound like "social networking isn’t for real friends" at all. But, apparently, accuracy doesn’t make for as good a headline sometimes. Then we’ve got USA Today, which seems to totally contradict the Marketwatch headline, by noting: For teens, a friend online is usually a friend offline, too. Apparently, the people at Marketwatch and at USA Today seemed to think they were reading different studies.

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Comments on “Fun With Headlines: Is Social Networking Good Or Bad For Friendship?”

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Scott says:

It Simply Is the Way It Is

I wrote this on an internal blog recently, but here it is since I think it somewhat relates to the perspectives on friends online and offline:

A colleague of mine was discussing a recent article in the NY Times, “Is Social Networking Killing You?” and it encouraged me to writing this piece. So here it is.

I will admit that social networking can be a time-user (not time-waster) depending on your personality type. I find it exciting to see what other people are up to. I don’t try to keep up with all the details and typically I just scan the latest things going on. But it’s always interesting to learn more about the people you know, want to know, and know already but want to know more. There’s the argument that what is happening, by moving to social networking over face to face interaction, is not really interacting socially. But I believe the term “social” needs to be redefined for today’s age. Being social is no longer just an activity between a person, or groups of people in the physical world as it’s traditionally known. It’s ANY interaction including those online.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed, which I don’t believe people realize, is that being more social online actually allows you to be social with a tighter group of people in your offline world. Personally, it’s allowed me to be more selective of whom I spend my personal, limited, physical time with. In the past, as I would meet new people, I’d have to be cognizant of calling them or emailing them “just to say hi.” I would have to make sure I occasionally went out with them so they knew I “still thought about them” or “still cared.” Doing that took a lot of my personal time. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy spending time with those people, but in an age where we’re already hard-pressed for time…the personal time we do have is very precious.

Now, with social networking, I’ve actually been able to move those occasional meet ups, phone calls, emails, etc from the “offline” world into the socially networked world. I also have my colleagues, close personal friends, and family in that world. Nowadays, my close, offline relationships are with those people that I feel deserve my personal time that I would otherwise be spending doing something else. It’s improved those close relationships. They’re stronger than they ever were. And now that I’m socially networked those occasional friendships have also improved as a result. I no longer have to remember to call person “X” and person “Y” before they leave for their trip to say “good-bye.” I don’t have to worry about forgetting person “X”s birthday or anniversary. The social networking tools push that information to me on a daily basis and I can respond if I choose. Now, I spend my offline life growing my personal relationships with family and close friends and grow my online life with everyone else. I also interact more, and with more people, than I ever have before…yet I don’t feel stressed or worried about contacting them all the time. Now, it just comes naturally (or virtually). It simply is the way it is.

So, let it be known, that if I want to start spending time you in my offline, physical world then you are very worthy of what limited personal time I have and I’m choosing to share that with you. For those that are not in that category, don’t feel bad…there’s very few people in it .I simply don’t have the time 🙂

Peter Nielson (profile) says:

Social Networking Good

First off, I didn’t read the entirety of the article, but just skimmed it, and I thought i’d throw in my two cents on the question.

I’m currently 1/2 way around the world as a deployed Marine, and the only easy way to keep up with friends is through social networking websites.

Facebook and Skype allow me to actually communication with people who are 8 time zones away like they’re right next to me (more or less). If it weren’t for those two things, well, life would be a lot harder.


Nancy Baym says:

Thanks Mike! In fairness the USA Today article *was* about a different study. But what really killed me about the ‘not for real friends’ part was that my work (and others’) shows that people maintain lots of CLOSE STRONG ties through social network sites in addition to all those weak ties. That quote was right there in the same press release.

Dave (profile) says:

Facebook "friends"

Whether it’s on Facebook or in the real world, folks should be sure they understand the difference between “friends” and acquantances. After a lifetime of relationships, if you end up with 3 real friends, or even just one, you are wealthy indeed. People you know who are “friendly” are not necessarily friends. Be careful who you trust as a friend.

Steven Milner (user link) says:

Interest comments and article

Social networking is great way to keep uptodate with what friends and family are doing around the world. Social networking has enabled people to communicate easier than ever with information, pictures and videos, different to life just 10 years ago. Social network increase friendships.

steven milner
Enjoy life with your friends – Social network

Julia says:

(Anti) Social Networking

Oh dear. I recently made the mistake of joining Twitter – at the behest of a leader in my industry and a connection on a professional networking site – and I don’t know how to make it go away. This Twitter thing. Text messages all the time.

Peter’s comment gets to the primary benefit of social networking sites. When you can’t reach out and touch someone … virtual reality suffices. Does anyone remember “chat rooms?” Those seem paleolithic now.

When people ask me feverishly (because they drank too much of the Zuckerberg Kool-Aid) “Are you on Facebook?.” Well, no. Why not? A few little things like:

1) Terms of Service. Has anyone read them? Absolutely Draconian with respect to one’s intellectual property rights.

2) Knowing someone’s relationship status will not benefit me professionally. I’m on a professional networking site – which has really paid off – and I don’t have to look at photos of a “friend’s” kid’s birthday party.

3) When I want to communicate with my friends, I call, email, make reservations or write a letter.

From an anthro/socio perspective, any prospective man I date should be out spearing the proverbial mastadon, not some friend-collecting narcissist picking out Facebook wall hangings.

I may sound really opposed to social networking sites. I’m not. They just are not for me. I have a lot of friends who use and enjoy Facebook in moderation.

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