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The evolution of social networking sites (SNSs) has arguably strengthened social ties and created an environment of connectedness unseen with traditional forms of communication. Before the advent of social networking, people relied on the traditional forms of communication such as telephones to stay in touch with family and friends. Social networking sites including Twitter allow individuals to foster strong ties between friends as well as exchange news or views on public issues.
In this context, social networks provide a new cultural frontier allowing people to stay connected, both locally and globally. The social networks raise concerns over their impacts upon cultural and social institutions. However, the regular exchanges, besides allowing people to connect with the society, foster norms and trust, which are the key elements of any community life. Social networking sites are powerful tools for increasing public participation on social and cultural issues.
Cultural Effects of Social Networks
Social networking sites (SNSs), given their nature, facilitate the strengthening of social bonds and enhance access to cultural norms central to community life. For instance, twitter, through the ‘tweets’ feature allows individuals to monitor the activities of the friends, community, and family closely, thus maintaining an online connection similar to offline relationships.
In workplace settings, twitter and other SNS, allow sharing of vital information and comments about the organization. However, this raises security concerns with regard to information shared. Culturally, the management and employees sometimes share insights and thoughts about organizational and marketing issues through the social networks.
The SNSs represent a shift in the organization of communities by focusing primarily on individual interests. Unlike other online websites, SNSs according to Stern and Dillman (2006), “are structured with the individual at the center of their own community” (p. 417), which mirrors the offline culture of most communities.
However, of most concern is the privacy of the profile data. Twitter allows sharing of personal information with “followers” only. Still, the public nature of SNSs and the ability of a stranger to access such data raise serious security concerns. Additionally, an individual can assume different online and offline identities or include wrong information especially people with open profiles, which affect offline relationships and friendship.
Social impacts of SNSs
Unlike other communication media, SNSs have led to increased public participation particularly in the community and political issues affecting them. By creating trust, bridging online, and offline relationships, SNSs encourage participation of the public on various discussions, forums and civic participation including mass protests.
Of importance is the capacity of SNSs to create an online community with common interests or ideas and have much influence on social capital. In addition, the SNSs such as twitter allow sharing of information and pictures of social and political events. Thus, the SNSs serve to bond the social capital through friends and online communities.
Online interactions and regular exchange of information improve self-esteem and results to the high life satisfaction for individuals with low self-esteem (Stern, & Dillman, 2006, p. 409). However, SNSs sometimes affect negatively on social relationships when individuals adopt different online and offline identities. In twitter, an individual can choose to end a friendship through the “un friend” option. This normally arises when there is breach of trust and can affect even offline relationships.
Potential effects of SNSs on Face-to-Face Interactions
SNSs have allowed individuals to establish relationships with others outside their social group. Most online relationships are based on shared interests, as opposed to shared geography. This implies that the online friends are less likely to meet, which means that online interactions will eventually replace the face-to-face interactions. Stern and Dillman argue that, SNSs such as twitter usually allow individuals to maintain the existing offline relationships, as opposed to making new friends (2006, p. 411).
This means that individuals will most often interact online to share ideas or chat as opposed to interacting face-to-face. Additionally, online friends have common offline activities, which they can conveniently chat about as opposed to interacting face-to-face. (Stern, & Dillman, 2006, p. 417).
In this context, twitter and other SNSs enable users to interact with friends in circumstances where they are unable to socialize offline especially due to distance. Thus, users will more likely resort to online socialization with peers over face-to-face interactions in such situations.
Cultural Values and SNSs
Normally, online relationships are a reflection of offline interactions. In this regard, cultural values are not compromised by online interactions, as the offline friends constitute the majority of an individual’s online friends.
Since the SNSs essentially comprise of a community or “followers” in Twitter bound by common interests, the cultural values of social trust, social engagement and social ties are reinforced by SNSs. However, SNSs at the same time challenges privacy of information, leads to addiction, affects socialization and causes disintegration of many relationships.
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Social networking sites such as twitter have significantly enhanced social ties compared to traditional communication forms. Due to their ease of usage, there is a high likelihood that they will replace face-to-face interactions. Looking into the future, SNSs are fast evolving along with the advancement in technology. Given their impact upon social engagement, SNSs will be a useful tool of expanding democracy and enhancing civic participation. However, privacy of personal data remains a serious concern.
Stern, M., & Dillman, D. (2006). Community participation, social ties, and use of the internet. City & Community, 5(4), 409-424.