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Amsterdam Center for Social Media

This week in social media research: When too much is too much (Information Sharing and Relationships)

by Chei Billedo

Mona-Lisa-Smile

Social media play a big role in information sharing. Everyday, we have to sift through numerous information especially those we get via social network sites (SNS). The information shared can range from extremely important to extremely mundane, from essential to virtually useless, from very private to very public. Issues regarding “what is acceptable” or “what is too personal?” are always a point of discussion. Aside from the content, the amount of information we receive/share is also a bone of contention — “what is too much/many?”. Most of us share information through SNS so we can stay connected with people in our network. But there are times when we feel exasperated with what and how often other people post that we simply want to hide or unfriend them. This does not sound good for our relationships. We wonder, how does information sharing via social media affect our relationships?

The recently published study of Steijn and Schouten (2013) provides evidence to the idea that information shared on SNS has a positive effect on our relationships. They asked more than a thousand respondents to report changes in their relationship with someone (in terms of intimacy, liking, trust, involvement and relationship lost/gained) as a function of their interaction through Facebook or Hyves. Their results showed that information sharing on SNS is valuable to relationship development. Specifically, public posts (as opposed to profile information, chat, private messages) had the strongest association with relationship development. They did not specify, however, what type of public posts are included and how often are those things posted. What about TMI (Too Much Information)?

If you are a regular user of social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and the photo-sharing app, Instagram, you have probably noticed that there is one type of picture that is constantly publicly posted – #selfie (/ˈsɛlfi/ n. a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website; plural – selfies). For some reason, many people have developed a fondness for posting their selfies*. One might think that there really is nothing so disagreeable about these pictures. But what can be really bothersome is not so much if one posts such a picture, but if one posts selfies A LOT!

What exactly is the effect of being overexposed to our friends’ selfies? (Annoyance. ☺). A recent study may provide us enough basis to tell our friends that their chronic posting of selfies are bad for our relationship (with them). Houghton, Joinson, Caldwell, and Marder (2013) investigated the impact of Facebook photograph sharing on relationships. They measured participant’s perception of the frequency by which a target posts different types of photographs, including photos of the self. They also asked their participants to answer scales that measured support and intimacy in their relationship with the target. Their results showed that increased sharing of photos of the self is related to decreased support and intimacy in the relationship. Simply put, constant sharing of selfies may adversely affect our relationships with our selfie-viewers.

So yes, go ahead and post that selfie taken during your first trip abroad alone. Share the things that are important to you with your network. After all, sharing is what social media is about. Information sharing may improve our relationships. However, it does not mean that we should broadcast every little thing in our lives such as our #ootd (Outfit Of The Day) or our numerous versions of duck face**. Indeed, there is such a thing as too much…

*selfie has been recently added (August 2013) to the Oxford Dictionaries (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/selfie)

**similar to the facial expression of “Mona Lisa” (picture on this post) that is popular among selfie posters (picture taken from http://www.lostateminor.com/2013/02/16/if-mona-lisa-was-on-instagram/)

References:

Houghton, D., Joinson, A., Caldwell, N., & Marder. B. (2013). Tagger’s delight? Disclosure and liking behavior in Facebook: The effects of sharing photographs amongst multiple social circles. Birmingham Business School Discussion Paper Series. Retrieved from http://epapers.bham.ac.uk/1723/1/2013-03_D_Houghton.pdf

Steijn, W.M.P., & Schouten, A.P. (2013). Information Sharing and Relationships on Social Networking Sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(8), 582-587. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0392

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