This paper explores the effects of computer-mediated communication on individuals’ social behaviors. The social networking websites and specialized apps provide opportunities for convenient interpersonal and intercultural interaction. Social networking is criticized as a distraction that reduces productivity and replaces the real life face-to-face socializing. The studies reviewed in this paper, particularly by Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2011) and Brandtzaeg (2012) demonstrate that users of social networking websites have advantages over non-users. The users of social media networks have greater social capital and greater social support. Social networking enhances open-mindedness through the intercultural communication and the consideration of different life views. Most users of social networking sites believe that online communication has a positive or no impact on their personal identity (Sponcil & Gitimu, 2013).
The advent of the Internet technologies has changed many spheres of life. The computer-mediated communication is one of the biggest and most disputed advantages of the technological progress. The numerous social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace as well as specialized applications and programs, including Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, and others make it easy to connect to other people despite the distance and even time zones. The benefits of using the computer-mediated communication include acquiring information, building contacts with acquaintances and strangers, and managing personal reputation by posting photos and status updates. At the same time, the rapidly growing popularity of the Internet technologies can have negative implications. The Internet, as a new channel of communication, has its rules, and it influences the way people communicate. The social media websites are often criticized for partially replacing the real world interactions. The convenience of using the computer-mediated communication makes it popular and even addictive. The unpredictable manner, in which text messages arrive, can make users check the social media websites too often. The Internet communication is a major distraction for both students and adult employees. The appearance of distraction blocking applications aimed at improving person’s concentration clearly demonstrates the extent, to which the Internet has changed habits and communication patterns of its users. Despite the criticism, the computer-mediated communication does not replace the real world interpersonal communication but rather extends it and provides social support, creating favorable conditions for effective professional networking, interpersonal, and intercultural communication.
Social Media for Education Purposes
Online social media platforms are valuable tools that can be used for professional networking and education. By contrast to the widely spread stereotype that social media are mainly distracting, a study conducted by Al-Sharqui, Hashim, and Kutbi (2015) has revealed that students use social media websites for academic and non-academic purposes. Entertainment and leisure browsing is only one of many potential applications of social media. With their demanding schedules, students highly appreciate the opportunity of multitasking by using Facebook and other similar websites. Thus, a student who logs into a chosen social media website can simultaneously do homework tasks, write text messages to family and friends, and do an online research (Spocil & Gitimu, 2013). The available options enable students to share posts with groups of users to share the news or ask some questions instead of spending time on writing individual messages. Along with writing personal messages, users can exchange valuable professional information or collaborate on group projects. The options of sending files or sharing links to certain resources make social media a valuable education tool, which enables the students interact with each other and their instructors in a way that would be impossible in a face-to-face communication. The teachers, who understand the changes in their students’ social behaviors, successfully exploit the social media for posting materials or assignments for their courses. The opportunities for online education make social media valuable tools that do not substitute real life communication but rather compliment it by providing additional opportunities for the effective online learning.
Social Media for Building Connections
Along with the options of information sharing and networking, social media offer opportunities for building connections to people whom a person knows in real life or not. By posting personal information in their profiles, the users of social media create the conditions for attracting people whom they know or those who share common interests with them. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2011) noted that the social identity information could stimulate the users to convert their latent connections into weak ones (p. 875). An individual’s profile can give valuable information on the user’s preferences, past experiences and future aspirations. For example, an individual who looks for teachers’ profiles can get to know instructors in person to alleviate fear and potentially even improve attitudes to their subjects. Although the amount of information that can be shared online is a disputable question, online presence in the form of personal profiles on the most popular social media sites is an effective connection strategy. The social media enables individuals to extend the circle of their personal and professional acquaintances. There is evidence that at least 72% of all college students have social media profiles and 45% of them visit social media websites at least once a day (Sponcil & Gitimu, 2013, p. 1). The innovative trend of the convenient one-to-many communication via social media websites is popular with various categories of population, but it is unlikely to replace the real life face-to-face communication.
The Convenience of Social Media
Despite the convenience of using the computer-mediated channels for interpersonal communication, most people communicate online with people they know if offline contacts are for impossible some reasons. For example, students can connect to their family and friends when they go to college in a new city or country (Mikal, Rice, Abeyta, & DeVilbiss, 2013). While the international phone calls can be costly, the social media is a free and convenient alternative. Another significant advantage of social media is the user’s absolute control over the process. Thus, a user can read and respond to messages at personal convenience, at the time and extent chosen by the user. The social media sites are used mainly to maintain the pre-existing social connections instead of making new acquaintances (Sponcil & Gitimu, 2013, p. 4). The security settings on Facebook, for example, allow limiting the public access to the profile’s information. A user can select who will see the posts and profile’s personal data and who can send messages. The security concerns are an important negative implication of computer-mediated communication. The opportunity to connect with millions of people from all over the world has a significant negative implication. Disclosing too much personal information or interacting with strangers allows villains to misuse personal information. Online chatting can be associated with fraud and identity theft. The potential risks and vulnerability are among the most important underlying causes for avoiding strangers on the social media websites.
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Social Support and Skills Development on Social Media
The risks and vulnerability of using the social media websites are outweighed by the benefits of receiving social support and enhancing the personal concept through computer-mediated communication. According to Mikal et al. (2013), the loss of accustomed social networks as the result of moving to a new place or changing a job can be compensated through social support on social media. The loneliness and rapid changes in life are associated with increased levels of stress. In these cases, the features of the social media can be beneficial for alleviating stress and improving personal psychological wellbeing. On the other hand, the identity arises from the interaction with others (Lustig & Koester, 2010). The social networking sites provide abundant opportunities for the interaction and identity development. In their accustomed settings, the users commonly exploit the social media acquaintances as a source of social support as well. For example, users can post photos or status updates, seeking for their peers’ approval and positive feedback. Depending upon the level of their online activity, the extended circles of acquaintances can provide assistance and encouragement to anyone who may need it. The study conducted by Brandtzaeg (2012) has revealed that the social capital of social networking users is higher than that of non-users. The social capital is the set of skills and conditions necessary for efficient communication. The social media users have a broader circle of weak connections with acquaintances whom they do not know well but to whom they can apply if necessary. Brandtzaeg (2012) concludes that the social networking sites users communicate more both via text messengers and in real life. The use of the social networks contributes to the individual’s communication skills, both offline and online, and it cannot be considered as a substitute to the real life communication.
Social Media for Open-Mindedness
Along with enhanced communication skills and social capital, the social networking users receive access to contradicting life views and styles. The social media sites users should be divided into several groups according to their major activity online. Along with the active communication, the users spend a substantial amount of time on lurking, or viewing the profiles of other users without actively interacting with them. In this way, the users are initiated into the life of the users whose profiles they view and become closer connected to them (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011). At the same time, lurking can bring the positive result of ruined stereotypes and open-mindedness. The Internet and computer-mediated communication allow destroying the boundaries in not only time and distance but also in the users’ consciousness and systems of beliefs. The users can take part in heated disputes or simply read the arguments presented by others to develop their own opinions on certain questions that might otherwise escape their attention. Despite the potential anonymity of the online information, most users deny falsifying their data only to manage their reputation (Al-Sharqui, Hashim, & Kutbi, 2015). Thus, the information from the social media sites is perceived as true, and it helps users make their picture of life more complete. The open-mindedness and decreased stereotypes are the significant advantages of using computer-mediated communication, which may have positive implications and influence on the offline social behaviors.
Social Media for Intercultural Communication
The open-mindedness, achieved through computer-mediated communication, can be especially valuable if it is the result of the intercultural interaction. The communication between the representatives of different cultures, religions, and value systems has never been easier and more productive than now, with the help of computer and Internet technologies. Except for rare cases when a social media website is locked in the country for political reasons in some undemocratic regimes, the social networking websites and technologies like Skype and Viber can be used all over the world. The cross-cultural communication in the international cyberspace can potentially reveal the differences in the cultural rhetoric and cause misunderstandings due to the differences in the cultural communication patterns (St. Amant, 2002). In addition to the translation difficulties, the cross-cultural communication can potentially give rise to the conflicts of values and cultural patterns. The cultural patterns are commonly defined as shared judgments as to what a particular word means and how it should be used in communication (Lustig & Koester, 2010). These patterns can significantly differ in different cultures. Along with the obvious language mistakes, word for word translations from the native language, unclear to the representatives of other language systems, the participants of the online cross-cultural communication can emphasize the different meanings of the polysemantic words. For instance, if a participant uses the word ‘resume’, the misunderstanding can be caused with the two different meanings such as ‘to restart working after a pause’ and ‘make a resume’ in the meaning of ‘making conclusions’. Thus, if a participant says, ‘let’s resume tomorrow morning’, the interlocutor can understand it as restating work in the morning or drawing conclusions from the past interaction in the morning. The additional questions and details can help resolve the conflict of patterns. As for the language component of communication, the rhetoric and punctuation can differ in different cultures. For instance, some cultures, such as German and Russian ones, have different forms for ‘you’ as the second person singular that is equal to the speaker and does not require any additional appraise, and ‘you’ as an interlocutor who is older and more authoritative and who deserves special acclaim through the language means. Resolving these conflicts of values, individuals can advance their language competence and open-mindedness.
Common Concerns about Social Media
In addition to the numerous benefits to interpersonal and intercultural communication, the computer-mediated interaction is associated with a variety of negative implications. The decreased physical activity, exposure to negative ideas, and unproductivity as the result of distracting are discussed as the reverse side of the social media networking (Al-Sharqui, Hashim, & Kutbi, 2015). The discussion of the negative implications of the social media sites is rooted in the widely spread theory that the computer-mediated communication is addictive and mainly entertaining. The evidence from the recent studies has demonstrated that the discussed disadvantages do not represent the real situation (Sponcil & Gitimu, 2013). Many users take advantages of the social media platforms by using them for education purposes and strengthening their social ties (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011). The benefits of interpersonal and intercultural communication that became possible by means of social media networking sites outweigh the potential risks of the negative influence and unproductivity. The personal implications of every user depend upon the most common patterns of online interactions. The users of online social networks can be divided into several groups, depending upon their most common socializing pattern. Some users are active communicators, contributing to the discussion boards, commenting the web content, and creating their own posts, while others prefer the passive strategies of reviewing the profiles of other users without actively engaging into interactions. Depending upon the preferred communication strategy, the users can have various outcomes. The active communicators, who extend their circles of acquaintances, have reported larger social capital as compared to the passive observers (Sponcil & Gitimu, 2013). It means that the social media can be the catalyst of the users’ offline social behaviors. The most users agreed that they perceived the influence of social media on their personalities as positive or neutral, neither positive, nor negative (Brandtzaeg, 2012). Although the social networking sites users can report higher levels of perceived loneliness, the active interactions can be the source of social support and a major influence on personal identity, which do not replace the real life socializing.
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The social networking sites and other means of computer-mediated communication can have numerous positive implications that do not replace but extend the offline social behavior patterns. Most recent studies have concluded that the popularity of the social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is on the rise, and they are used mainly for maintaining the pre-existing social contacts. The social media ties can improve and deepen the personal ties, but most users do not use the social networking platforms for connecting with strangers or instead of the real world communication. The computer-mediated communication is used out of necessity, when other means of communication are impossible for some reasons. For example, students who study abroad can connect to their parents and friends online. The individuals, who, due to certain circumstances, have lost their accustomed social circle because of moving to new locations or changing jobs, can use social media as a source of social support. The computer-mediated interaction is a convenient form of one-to-many communication that can facilitate professional networking and education. The social networking sites are valuable tools that make the cross-cultural communication possible. Despite its convenience, the numerous benefits, and value for the interpersonal and intercultural communication, the computer-mediated interaction can extend and enrich the offline social interactions in the ways that would be impossible in face-to-face communication but not replace them.