People build and maintain relationships over online social networks like Facebook. The trueness of these relationships is of interest because the online environment does not have the same characteristics as the physical environment. It is imperative to consider relevant issues, as follows: Is it possible to have true or high quality online personal relationships over social networks in spite of privacy issues? Can we truly build trust in relationships through social networks? What are the various challenges and issues in online personal relationships over social networks? How can one deal with these issues and challenges? These issues highlight the difference between the nature of online relationships and interactions, compared to the nature of non-online relationships and face-to-face interactions.
This article presents findings from research on online relationships, pertaining to privacy, trust and challenges.
Online Friendship vs. Offline Friendship
Offline friendship tends to be deeper and can exhibit better understanding and commitment compared to online friendship. In the online environment, the lack of physical interaction or physical contact reduces the stimuli and perceptive information people use. However, the overall quality of online friendship improves over time as the friendship grows. As a result, the quality gap between online friendship and offline friendship decreases as the relationship grows over time. Thus, if allowed to grow through time, personal relationships over social networks have potential to become just about as deep and as high quality as offline relationships.
Adolescents frequently use the Internet for friendship. Majority of adolescents have good experiences with online friends. In general, personal relationships over social networks can be of acceptable quality. However, majority of users also contact their online friends through offline ways, such as text messaging or phone calls. When analyzing online personal relationships over social networks, it is also important to consider offline contacts or interaction. Offline interactions tend to contribute to the improvement of online relationships.
Building Romantic Personal Relationships over Social Networks
Building romantic personal relationships over social networks usually require more time and self-disclosure than offline relationships. Even when there are a lot of privacy issues in the online environment, people still tend to disclose information in order to build personal relationships online. In this condition, people in online relationships tend to have higher commitment because their time and self-disclosure investments are high. Also, infidelity only weakly affects online romantic relationships. The weak effect of infidelity is due to the geographic distance between persons in intimate personal relationships over social networks. The physical distance tends to numb out the effects of infidelity.
Eye Gaze and Interpersonal Distance
Eye gaze and interpersonal distance also influence personal relationships over social networks. Eye gaze is the act of looking at another person in the eyes. Interpersonal distance is the distance of the relationship in terms of depth of communication and self-disclosure. Personal relationships over social networks can grow in the absence of eye gaze because interpersonal distance (depth of communication and self-disclosure) can continue to increase without eye gaze.
Online Socialization and Psychosocial Problems
There are links between online socialization and the worsening of psychosocial problems due to experiences in the online environment. Psychosocial problems commonly experienced in personal relationships over social networks have higher tendencies of occurrence if the person has these problems to start with. Problems such as depression and anxiety in relationships are not necessarily created in interactions on social networking web sites. Still, these problems could worsen if the online environment is improperly used. Psychosocial problems happen in online personal relationships over social networks, but the causes of these problems are not necessarily online.
Personal relationships over social networks can be of high quality in spite of privacy issues. Majority of these online relationships are satisfying. Compared to offline relationships, people tend to have more self-disclosure in personal relationships over social networks. Also, infidelity has less impact on these online relationships. Thus, personal relationships over social networks are an option to start or nurture friendly, familial, work-related or romantic relations.
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