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Online friendships exhibit same qualities as face-to-face ones

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The components of a good friendship have been researched many times. An August 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that close friendships during high school boost adults’ mental health. A November 2012 study conducted by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor revealed that women use friendships to regulate stress levels and an August 2012 study conducted by Harvard University researchers revealed that good friendships make people live longer. However, the advent of the Internet and the rise of social networking has created a new kind of friendship: the cyberspace friendship. There are many concerns regarding this new type of friendship, such as safety, cyberbullying and harassment. Scientists at the University of California, Irvine formulated a research synthesis to put an end to this debate.

The scientists pored over scientific literature to find the characteristics of a face-to-face friendship. They then cross-listed their findings with literature describing friendships across social media. In their cross-listings, scientists included Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, blogs and even multiplayer video games, due to the social nature of gaming. The research focused on adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18. There were various ways in which the information of each individual research was gathered, including  interviews, content analysis of messages and posts on social media platforms.

The researchers found that there were six characteristics that built a friendship: self-disclosure, which enables individuals to release pent-up feelings and elicit social support from others as well as promoting intimacy; validation, which is defined as a public declaration of a friend’s importance; companionship;instrumental support; conflict and conflict resolution.

For each of these characteristics, digital parallels were found, such as Facebook posts on someone’s wall or yearbook messages.

The study found that these characteristics were observed in friendships regardless of the mode of communication.  The researchers note, however, that just because there is no difference in the quality of friendships overall, it does not mean that digital interactions have the same effect on each of the six individual characteristics of friendship.

The study admits that companionship seems to be especially facilitated because of the advent of instant messaging and the fact that anyone can be contacted at any time. People can choose when to respond to texts, whether it be early in the morning or late at night. Meanwhile, there is also a greater chance of conflict arising because rumors tend to spread like wildfire online, with many conflicts escalating beyond the realm of “normal” interactions and spreading to the viral section of the Internet.

People are still cautious of the Internet and of cyberspace friendships. This cautiousness, when it comes to the authenticity of such friendships, is shared by Baruch students.

Kunal Mansukhani, a sophomore and accounting major, remains wary of cyberspace friendships because  “you don’t know the person. You can put one photo and it can be someone else. There are ways you can change the face and when you don’t meet the person, you don’t know who it is. And because of this, online friendships are not as strong as face to face friendships.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Arnold, a freshman and intended international business major, believes “online friendships can be just as credible as the friendship[s] you make in person. New technologies allow people to communicate in numerous ways, even if they are nowhere near each other. However, even with this technology, I do not believe online friendship[s] are stronger than face-to-face ones because there is a special connection formed between people when they talk in person that cannot be replicated through a computer.”

As Mansukhani and Arnold note, there are unsolved issues with online friendships.

The research synthesis does not address these specific problems directly but it does bring up future directions of study. There needs to be further analysis of friendship types because a Facebook “friend” can include roommates, former romantic partners, best friends, friends of friends and classmates. Studies should also note the gender of the adolescent sending the message and the gender of the recipient.

There are also two prominent challenges that need to be addressed. Longitudinal studies, which are helpful for discovering the effects of technology use on friendship quality and socio-emotional outcomes, are made effectively null due to the speed at which social media platforms evolve. Different age groups also tend to use different platforms as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are more frequently used by 15- to 17-year-olds than by 13- to 14-year-olds.

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