Computer Mediated Communication, Social Networking Sites and Maintaining Relationships

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Hatana Eljarn


The past decade has witnessed a proliferation of internet use for socialising with dedicated websites such as Facebook, and also for maintaining relationships using computer mediated communication. Individuals can extend the boundary associated with traditional forms of communication, and use technology to meet strangers online to share interests, or maintain existing relationships remotely. One of the most significant functions of computer-mediated communication (CMC) is its contribution to the evolution of social communication. CMC is "communication that takes place between human beings via the instrumentality of computers" (Thurlow, Lengel, and Tomic, 2004). As a consequence of the convenience and flexibility that this channel provides, CMC can be effectively used to orchestrate a variety of communication situations. Furthermore, social networks sites are becoming the choice in which individuals are maintaining relationships or meeting new people. The potential distinctions between these relationships and their offline counterparts remain contradictory. Online relationships may face different challenges, such as anonymity, restricted interaction (Walther, 1992), and the lack of physical presence. For example, sharing activities online such as playing games or visiting Web sites together differs from offline activities, such as going to the movies or dining together. These observations question whether CMC relationships have any parallels with real world relationships. Dunbar (1992) structured real world relationship by strength of ties and formulated the social brain hypothesis (SBH). This work uses the SBH as an interpretive lens in analyzing CMC relationship ties. Thus, a major focus of this work is to investigate implications of the SBH (Dunbar, 1992) within the context of CMC usage. It is recognised that CMC allows for the maintenance of a large number of friendships. Thus potentially, the use of CMC could alter the SBH ratios. Within the main findings consistency with SBH was found. Furthermore, CMC has many parallels with real world communication methods. Face-to-face communications were strongly preferred for maintenance of strong ties. Also phone usage was analysed and identified as an indicator of strong tie relationships, for both local and distant communications. The findings also address questions on displaced communities communication habits and their use of CMC. The phone was found to be most popular media and culture had a strong influence on communication content. The research used a mixed method approach, combining data collection via questionnaires, semi structured interviews and a diary study completed by participants. Based on the findings, a framework is proposed categorising groups on their level of real world socialising and CMC use. There are four essential contributions impacting on current theory. The findings offer new knowledge within the research of CMC and relationship maintenance theory. In our understanding these exploratory questions have not yet been addressed and therefore the findings of this research project are significant in their contributions.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015