Computer Mediated Communication

In The Relationship Between Facebook Use and Well-Being Depends on Communication Type and Tie Strength, Burke and Kraut argue that “people derive benefits from online communication, as long it comes from people they care about and has been tailored for them.” (p. 265). Based on five complementary theories, the authors claim that “receiving composed, targeted communication from strong ties was associated with increases in well-being, while the same actions from weak ties showed no impact.” (p. 276).

Burke and Kraut base their research on social theories in the physical world, which they categorize into five mechanisms: the need to belong, relationship maintenance, signals of relational investment, social support, and social comparison. For the purpose of their research, they categorize Facebook communication into three types. Targeted, composed communication “consists of one-on-one exchanges between a user and another particular Facebook friend that included text,” one-click communication “consists of targeted, single-click actions directed at a particular friend” such as likes and pokes, and broadcast communication “consists of views of broadcast content, such as reading News Feed stories.” (p. 272). With consideration of the five mechanisms and the different categories of Facebook communication, they conclude that “receiving more Facebook communication in general was not associated with changes in well-being,” “receiving communication from strong ties is associated with improvements in well-being while receiving communication from weak ties is not,” “receiving composed communication, such as wall posts or comments, was associated with a marginally significant increase in well-being, while receiving one-click communication or viewing broadcast communication intended for a wider audience were not,” and finally “receiving composed, targeted communication from strong ties was associated with increases in well-being, while the same actions from weak ties showed no impact. Receiving one-click communication or broadcasts from strong or weak ties was not associated with changes in well-being.” (p. 276).

A flaw in their study that the authors admit is that participants were on average 15 years older, with larger networks than, the average user. (p. 278).  Additionally, they only measured quantity, not the content of messages. Based on this, I am skeptical of their indication that uses of Facebook are not associated with “declines in overall well-being.” (p. 277). All participants in the study had already been avid users of the site—their well-being could have decreased with initial use and then plateaued at a certain threshold. Thus, the researchers do not have a control against which to measure well-being with or without Facebook use. There could also be specific trends based on what information is being shared, which the researchers did not investigate—my guess is that someone who frequently shares conspiracy theories, for example, might have a significantly different level of stress and thus well-being than one who primarily shares updates about cute pets.

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