Networking in SNS: relax or pressure?

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

With the prevalence of social network sites (SNS), it is somehow expected that everyone should have at least one SNS account to either connect with friends (Facebook) or professionals (LinkedIn). Apart from their initial attraction as passing-time or relaxation, I found these sites somehow exert more and more pressure on people, requiring huge amount of time and energy, as well as techniques to better “network” with people.

The research on 800 Michigan State University undergraduate students in this week’s article The Benefits of Facebook “Friends”: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites found that

For less intense Facebook users, students who reported low satisfaction with MSU life also reported having much lower bridging social capital than those who used Facebook more intensely.

This finding corresponds with what I have experienced in college too. Almost all of my peers used a similar SNS called “Renren.com” in China, and those who are not intensive users often felt less connected with their classmates, not knowing what’s going on. What’s more, anyone visiting a person’s page can see the total view times (although they may not be able to see the contents of that page if they are not friends), thus exerting pressure for those whose pages are not frequently visited.

I wonder if the same kind of pressure exists in Facebook’s “like” function? Will people feel upset if their posts don’t receive a lot of “likes”?

Another prevalent SNS/chatting hybrid in China called “WeChat”, which is now gaining users in the U.S. , handles this sensitive issue more wisely. Instead of seeing all the “likes” for a post, the user can only see the “likes” by their common friends.

However, like other SNS, networking in WeChat has also gradually become something more demanding. For example, since most friends share their thoughts, pictures and updates on WeChat in the “Moments” section, it now becomes an habit or even obsession for most people to check these moments a few times everyday. And since WeChat is originally a chatting app, people tend to keep an eye on it everyday, the frequency to check the moments is probably higher than that of Facebook. On one hand, it sounds good to have your friends checking your updates all the time; on the other hand, people expect their friends to know what they are up to. It is not uncommon now to bump into a friend and be prompted to check his/her “moments” in order to see the photos of a recent activity he/she took part in.

SNS is meant to increase the relationship between people, but when WeChat and Facebook requires frequent checks to demonstrate a connection between you and your friends, it somehow can be tricky. A friendship may fade away simply because you don’t “like” the posts of your friends or don’t contact them often. And people can be deceiving in this aspect. I know some people just tend to “like” every post they see in order to show a sort of kindness. It seems nice, but somehow lacks sincerity, doesn’t it?

This “unique” way of networking/connecting with people reminds me again of some concerns regarding the technology-mediated human relationship. The SNS are so powerful in terms of their social capital, and those who don’t use them are considered fall behind. They may lose vital information. They may lose friendship. Doesn’t face to face conversation count more than virtual online chatting? Must our future relationship become a hybrid of F2F and online? …