According to Bauman’s Liquid Love (2003 ), the advance in virtual proximity makes human connections frequent and shallower and simultaneously intense and shorter. It makes us wonder if “friendships” on social networks are for “the
good, the pleasant or useful” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII ).
The aim of this study is to investigate three different types of relationships between young Internet users; exclusive Facebook friend, recently added
Facebook friend and exclusive face-to-face friend with regard to social attraction, self-disclosure, predictability, trust, gender, length of relationship, self-esteem and sociability.
A questionnaire was distributed in a private school of Athens to 158 students
with active accounts on Facebook (case study ). The findings show that students
with the largest number of friends in real life, also have a larger number of
friends on Facebook. There is moderate negative correlation between self-esteem
and hours spent on Facebook and moderate positive correlation between
sociality and the number of friends on Facebook. The values of friendship
(social attraction, self-disclosure, predictability, and trust ) within the Facebook
“environment” are always more intense than in that outside Facebook. It was
also found that boys have higher levels of self-esteem and sociability, but the
differences are more pronounced in the former than in the latter.
Teenagers use technology, specifically social networks, to meet their needs.
This use must be understood and analyzed according to their circumstance and
not according to the expectations of adults. Technology is fully integrated into
the their daily routines (Livingstone, 2008: 395 ), thereby reshaping the
environment in which they live, by negotiating their identities and interacting
mostly with peers they know (boyd, 2014: 9-10 ). The search for self and identity
is associated within the context of sociability and friendship. A social network
like Facebook is the frame of reference.
“O my friends, there is no friend ”
J. Derrida, The Politics of Friendship
The above quotation, attributed to Aristotle by Derrida1, and the ensuing
debate on friendship (Foucault2, Agamben3 ) are quite indicative of the
ways in which the notion of friendship bisects the social, psychological and
In recent years, the phenomenal growth of social networks —partic ularly Facebook— contributed to make it clear that social networking
constitutes the most prominent choice for developing interpersonal
relationships between adolescents, consequently impelling social scientists
to produce relevant studies.
Bauman in his book Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003)
criticizes the relationships in our liquid modern world. The notion of
“liquid love” describes connections as virtual relationships. Those who
were born after 1980 have been nicknamed “Digital Natives” (Prensky,
2001 ) or the “NET Generation” (Tapscott, 1998 ). Their lives are intensely
connected with technology and revolve around the use of computers, video
games, digital devices that can reproduce music, mobile phones and all the
other tools of the digital era (Prensky, 2001 ). Technology is fully incor po -
rated in their daily routines (Livingstone, 2008:395 ). In the liquid modern
setting of life, relationships are perhaps the most common, acute, deeply
felt and troublesome incarnations of ambivalence. He maintains that the
circulation of instant messages between Internet “friends” is actually of
greater value than the messages themselves. Bauman’s approach reminds
us of Anderson (1991 ), who coined the term “imagined community”
to describe the mystery of one’s tendency to identify within a broad circle
of total strangers, with whom he or she feels that the things they share
in common are important enough to make them a member of such a
community. According to Bauman, the advances in virtual proximity make
human connections more frequent and shallower, whilst simultaneously
being shorter and more intense. It makes us wonder whether Internet
“friendship” lean towards “the good, the pleasant or the useful” (Aristotle,
Nicomachean Ethics, VIII, 3 ).
This study aims to investigate whether certain psychological traits of
adolescent Internet users could provide similar behavioral patterns within
the context of their Internet friendships. It focuses on the differences
between three types of relationships between adolescent Internet users
(Facebook-exclusive friend, recent Facebook friend and non-Facebook
friend ), in particular among students of a private high school in Athens
(case study ) considering social attraction, self-disclosure, predictability,
trust, gender, duration of the relationship, self-esteem and sociability.
1 To define friendship is to define an absolute sense of mourning. In the presence of
the friend we mourn subjective autonomy and come to the realization of its inherent
impossibility (Derrida, 1996 ).
2 “… a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: the sum of everything
through which they can give each other pleasure” (Foucault, 1997:135 ).
3 The friend lies at the very heart of philosophy; ‘philos’ (Greek ) meaning ‘friend’
(Agamben, 2009:25 ). “…to recognize someone as a friend means not being able to
recognize him as ‘something’ “(Agamben, 2009:31 ).
Friendship, Adolescence and Facebook
The main issues influencing this study (Internet – Friendship – Adoles -
cence ) pertain to its dynamics and its affinity towards rapid change which
make for a fickle nature, as a result of its own dependency on fast growing
technology. Technology, in turn, is constantly urging individuals and
society to embrace it.
Through our social relationships, we build our social identities. It is
quite natural that the behaviors of adolescent individuals should be
interpreted in their own terms, ignoring —as much as possible— adult
desires and expectations. The discipline towards self-discovery and the
articulation of one’s identity is associated and fundamentally demonstrated
through sociability and friendship, with the internet as its context. The
Internet lives and real lives of teenagers are psychologically intertwined;
adolescents make use of new forms of technology to cover key areas of
their development, such as sexuality and familiarity, and also for increasing
their autonomy and researching their identity (Christie & Viner, 2005 ).
Teenagers use social networks to cover such needs, with technology on
their side. It is their way of reforming their living environment, negotiating
their identities and interacting with their familiar peers and, to a lesser
extent, with adults (boyd, 2014: 211-213 ).
The advent of Facebook has been viewed as having modified the
definition of the word “friend” between its millions of registered users.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the psychological importance
of friendship, even in cyberspace, has been reduced in any way. One of
the tools available to the users of social networks is accepting or declining
a friend request made by another user, who is looking to add them to
their “friend” list. The choice to accept (or decline ) certain users reflects
an individual’s desired self-image. In boyd’s study, teenagers claim to
understand the difference between a real-life friend and an Internet friend
(boyd, 2006 ). Similarly, Miller (2011:167 ) believes that friendship is a
diverse concept and, despite the fear that Internet friendships have reduced
the ability of people to maintain real-life friendships, there is no scientific
proof advocating that idea.
According to boyd (2006 ), for many teenagers the participation in a
social networking site is not only desirable, but also necessary. “If I am not
on MySpace (a social network similar to Facebook ), I do not exist” (words
of a teenager ). This does not only reflect the reason why teenagers are
attracted to similar sites but also how their participation in them affects
the perception of their own selves, of their identities. The codes of conduct
and the rites of communication are just one way to outline their identity
and manage their image through their choices (Goffman, 1959 ). This is
achieved through the careful concoction of a profile, which deviates from
the original, a process that takes into consideration other users’ profiles
and is adapted accordingly. Through the use of images, sound and video
(multimodality ) a virtual entity is created. The identity seems associated not
only with the user him or herself, but also with whom he or she is connected
with. Therefore, in such a context, the term “friend” might be deceitful,
since such a connection does not necessarily imply friendship, as it is
perceived in our everyday life (boyd, 2006 ). Teenagers claim to be able to
understand the difference between a real-life friend and an Internet friend
(boyd, 2006 ), something which could be interpreted as a social literacy
practice (Davies, 2012 ), i.e. attributing to the sense of “friendship” an un -
con ventional definition in accordance with their own cultural environment.
Ellison and her team (2007 ) have concluded that most people use
Facebook as a means to keep in touch with older friends and current
friendships. Although Facebook has a worldwide reach, its users mostly
prefer to communicate within those in their geographical vicinity. In the
same spirit, relevant studies have investigated the relationship between
Internet communication and real-life communication. For example,
Lampe, Ellison and Steinfield (2006 ) have concluded that Facebook users
are most likely to use the “search” function when looking for individuals
with whom they have a real-life connection with, rather than connecting
with strangers. Similarly, a study conducted by the Pew Research Center
has concluded that 91% of American social networking teenagers are
looking to connect with pre-existing friends (Lenhart & Madden, 2007 ).
According to the theoretical framework which formed the theoretical basis
of this study (Uncertainty Reduction Theory, Theory of Social Penetration,
Model Construction of Identity ) the concepts of social attraction, selfdisclosure,
predictability and trust are important qualitative characteristics
of both friendships in face-to-face relationships and in online relationships.
Big Five Factors of personality. The model divides human personality
into five dimensions with corresponding characteristics (Costa & McCrae,
1995 ). The first feature, extraversion, reflects the tendency to be sociable
and able to experience positive emotions. The second feature, agreeable -
ness, is another aspect of interpersonal behavior, reflecting a trend of
compassion and cooperation. The third characteristic, conscientiousness
reflects diligence and meticulousness. The fourth characteristic, emotional
stability, is coupled with balance and maturity. The fifth feature, openness
to the experience, shows willingness to consider alternative approaches,
being a mentally restless person and enjoying artistic pursuits. Ross
and his colleagues (2009 ) and Amichai-Hamburger and Vinitzky (2010 )
specifi cally examined the relationship between the Big Five and the use
of Facebook. Their results showed that a number of these factors are
associated with specific patterns of user Facebook users. For example,
extroverts generally have more friends (Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky,
2010 ) and are much more integrated into groups on Facebook (Ross et al.,
2009 ) than introverts.
Uncertainty Reduction Theory. This theory was introduced in 1975
by Charles R. Berger and Richard J. Calabrese to predict and explain the
development of relationships between strangers. A key point of the theory
is each individual’s effort to reduce the uncertainty for the individual
choices that interact with various strategies to reduce uncertainty (Berger
& Calabrese, 1975 ): 1 ) passive strategies through which a person collects
information about another person by observing their behavior ) with
dynamic knowledge acquisition strategies on another person and 3 ) with
interactive strategies that require direct contact for inquiries. One of the
interactive strategies for reducing the uncertainty is Self-disclosure (Berger
& Calabrese, 1975 ).
Social Penetration Theory (Altman & Taylor, 1973 ) argues that
Self-disclosure plays a critical role in the development of intimacy in
relationships. The disclosure of information is an important element of
relationships. The more time we spend with others, the more likely we are
to reveal personal thoughts and details of our lives. If disclosure is high,
then the relationship will develop. With the increase in the level of
friendship, intimacy also increases (Hays, 1984 ).
Maslow and Rogers’ theoretical approach of the self-perception (selfconcept)
is a multidimensional construct of the “self” which consists of a
number of features relating to gender, physical appearance, sexual identity,
racial identity, academic-school performance, and social and emotional
competence. It refers to the thoughts and feelings that people have in
general but more specifically in relation to an activity or task (Bracken,
1996 ). “This is an organized scheme involves significant judgments for
self and controls the processing of new information related” (Campbell
& Lavallee, 1993: 4 ). The self-concept may be positive or negative and
different in diverse dimensions (Marsh, 2005 ). It becomes obvious that
the formation of the self includes self-assessment and therefore affects the
construction of identity and the development of self-esteem. It is directly
connected with self-image and the image of the ideal self (Lawrence, 2006 ).
Based on the theoretical framework presented above, I developed the
Hypothesis 1: A larger number of friends in real life is positively
associated with a higher number of friends on Facebook.
Hypothesis 2: Self-esteem is positively correlated with the number of
friends (in real life and on Facebook ), with the working hours on Facebook,
and with the duration and frequency of friendly relationships.
Hypothesis 3: Sociability is positively correlated with the number of
friends (in real life and on Facebook ), with the working hours on Facebook,
and with the duration and frequency of friendly relationships.
Hypothesis 4: The quality of friendships (social attraction, Selfdisclosure,
predictability, confidence ) will be superior off Facebook.
Hypothesis 5: There are gender differences in the number of friends,
self-esteem, sociability and quality of friendships in real life and on Facebook.
The questionnaire that was used comprised 58 items, distributed between
three main axes: a ) Internet and Interpersonal Communication (Sheldon
2010 ), b ) Self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1989 ) and c ) Sociability (Zywica &
Danowski, 2008 ).
The data was collected from a sample of 158 male and female students
attending the 10th, 11 th and 12th grades at a private high school and who
also maintained an active Facebook account. The data was consequently
processed with SPSS software. Gender breakdown was as follows: 89 boys
(56.3% ) and 69 girls (43.7% ). Breakdown by class was as follows: 10th
Grade (15-16 years old ) 55 students (34.8% ), 11th Grade (16-17 year old )
44 students (27.8% ) and 12th Grade (17-18 year old ) 59 students (37.3% ).
The percentage of active accounts on Facebook in relation to the total
number of students was: 89% in the 10th Grade, 91% in the 11th Grade and
94% in the 12th Grade.
The questionnaire that was used is a compilation of three different ques -
a ) Questionnaire of Internet and Interpersonal Communication (Sheldon, 2010 )
Statements 1-39: These questions explored the information referring to social
attraction, self-disclosure, predictability and trust, as well as infor mation
indicating the duration of the relationship and the frequency of communication
between three different subtypes of Facebook relationships (Facebook-exclusive
communication, communication with a recently added Facebook contact,
communication exclusively face-to-face and never on Facebook ). Answers were
measured according to a 4-level Likert scale, where 4 = “I fully agree” and 1 =
“I fully disagree”.
Social attraction This friend does not belong to the circle of my close friends.
It is pleasant to communicate with him/her through Facebook.
Self-disclosure I feel very close to this person.
I feel I could confide anything to this person.
Predictability I can usually tell how this person feels.
I can predict this person’s behavior with a great certainty.
Trust I feel I can totally trust my friend.
I feel I can count on my friend’s help.
The Sheldon questionnaire (2010 ) was created through the utilization of preexisting
research tools: a ) the McCroskey and McCain research tool (1974 ), b ) the
Parks and Floyd scale (1996 ), c ) the Altman and Taylor scale (1973 ), and d ) the
Rotter scale (1967 ) to measure Social Attraction, Self-disclosure, Predictability and
• Social attraction
For social attraction, Sheldon (2010 ) used the McCroskey and McCain research
tool (1974 ).
Self-disclosure was measured by Sheldon (2010 ) through the use of the Parks and
Floyd scale (1996 ), which was developed on the basis of the Altman and Taylor
scale (1973 ).
The views on predictability and empathy constitute important aspects of the
Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Parks & Adelman,
1983 ). To measure it, Sheldon (2010 ) used the Parks and Floyd scale (1996 ).
• Duration of the relationship
The duration of the relationship was measured through a single question: “How
long have you known each other?” The respondents were called to report the
relevant time period in terms of days, months or years.
• Frequency of communication
The frequency of communication was measured through a single question: “How
frequently do you communicate through Facebook/Face-to-face”, with the
possible answers being “Less than once per week”, “Once per week”, “Two-three
times a week”, “Everyday” and “Several times a day”.
b ) Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965, 1989 )
Statements 40-49. With this tool (10 statements ) we measured self-esteem,
according to the Rosenberg scale.
c ) Sociability Scale (Zakin,1983, Zywica & Danowski, 2008 )
Statements 50-58. With this tool (9 statements ) we measured the sociability,
defining extraversion and introversion.
The school’s headmaster was personally notified of the nature and purpose
of the research. Subsequently, a letter was sent to the students’ parents,
which briefly outlined the research, guaranteed the confidentiality of any
exchanged information and request their consent for their children to
complete the questionnaires. The teachers who helped with the distribution
of the questionnaires were personally briefed on helping students with the
questions. In the final stage (December 2012 ), students completed a 58-
item questionnaire in the classroom, following the relevant instructions
that had been provided to them, with a guarantee of anonymity and
Study results and discussion
The analysis of the results of this on-going investigation indicates that the
number of real-life friends correlates with the number of Facebook friends.
There is a moderate negative correlation between self-esteem and hours
spent on Facebook and a moderate positive correlation between sociability
and Facebook friends. One important finding of this study is that the
values pertaining to the quality of friendship (social attraction, selfdisclosure,
predictability and trust ) are always higher within the Facebook
environment as opposed to outside of it. “Unlike ‘real relationships’,
‘virtual relationships’ are easy to enter and to exit ” (Bauman, 2003 ).
The number of close friends is found to be an average of 6.2 (min:0/
max:15 ). Facebook friends amount to 615 (min:0/max:2000 ) on average.
Similar data (568 Facebook friends on average ) is presented in Sheldon’s
We could assume that if a respondent is presented with a question
regarding his close friends alongside a question on his Facebook friends,
he/she will deviate towards an alternative definition of friendship, by
widening the context of reference and extending it beyond the class of close
friends. Upon examining the new social media, Christakis and Fowler
(2009 ) wrote that Facebook resembles an old soap-opera, the only differ -
ence being that the drama that we plunge ourselves into is not weaved by
unknown actors but real-life acquaintances. On Facebook and similar sites,
the word “friend” is used in a rather subjective sense. Those individuals
who comprise one’s network of Facebook friends are nothing more than
mere acquaintances. Only real-life friends can have an impact on our
choices (Christakis & Fowler, 2009 ). Dunbar (2010 ), hailing from the field
of evolutionary anthropology, seems to endorse that view, by maintaining
that we spend an average of 40% of our weekly social time with the five
most important persons of our circle, although those persons only
represent a meager 3% of our social contacts. Since the quality of a relation -
ship is defined by the time we spend nurturing it, having more than five
close friends can be rather challenging when communication takes place
offline. Through his research, Dunbar concluded that most of us can only
manage 150 meaningful relationships —either offline or online—, a
number which was named after its creator: Dunbar number. “Yes, you can
‘friend’ 500, 1,000, even 5,000 people with your Facebook page, but all save
the core 150 are mere voyeurs looking into your daily life” (Dunbar, 2010:
By examining the correlation between self-esteem and time spent on
Facebook, this study validates the conclusions of others who have
attempted to correlate the same data. The moderate negative correlation
that we arrived at indicates that the higher the self-esteem, the less time a
user is likely to spend on Facebook. We have also observed a moderate
positive correlation between sociability and the number of Facebook friends.
This study seems to confirm both the Social Enhancement Hypothesis as
well as the Social Compensation Hypothesis (Zywica & Danowski, 2008 ).
This can be attributed to the behavioral diversity between different types
of adolescent users; the most social (extrovert ) among them and those with
the highest self-esteem are more popular, supporting the Social Compensa -
tion Hypothesis, while the other subgroup of less social users (introvert ),
have a lower self-esteem and are less popular on Facebook, supporting the
Social Enhancement Hypothesis (Zywica & Danowski, 2008 ). Teenagers
with a high self-esteem try to enhance their self-image and use Facebook
as a means towards an even higher social status (Social Compensation
Hypothesis ), whereas teenagers with a low self-esteem are looking to
preserve their self-image or popularity, so that they can become socially
accepted (Social Enhancement Hypothesis ).
These findings indicate a positive and significant correlation between
social attraction and self-disclosure within the first two Relationship Types
(Facebook-exclusive friend and Recently added Facebook friend ).
Sheldon’s research has presented similar findings (2010 ). The attempt to
interpret why those values that refer to the quality of friendship within the
Facebook environment are higher than their real-life counterparts leads
us to reconsider internet communications in terms which are defined by
its principal communicants, i.e. the teenagers. Maybe, in their own context,
Facebook communication —even a limited one— is innate to the sense of
a “friend”. McKenna and Bargh (2000 ) have observed that the need for
familiarity urges teenagers towards Internet communication, as a means
to achieve this feeling of empathy faster than in real-life. Besides, according
to Valkenburg and Peter (2011 ), teenagers are expected to develop these
essential traits, i.e. self-presentation and self-disclosure, as they are both
of vital importance for the development of their identity, familiarity and
sexuality. These relationships are not inferior compared to conventional
ones and can even become real-life relationships. It is entirely possible that
Internet relationships are deeper, steadier and longer than those that are
formed in a the real environment, where physical attraction and proximity
are so intensely confining and crucial for the future of any relationship. In
Henderson and Gilding’s research (2004 ), respondents reported that
Internet friendships include higher levels of self-disclosure. They view their
Internet confessions as the only way through they could demonstrate
empathy for someone online. The Internet presents itself as a unique
environment where anyone can explore, develop and maintain friendships
by talking about themselves and establishing familiarity. Research results
can also be explained in light of the school’s nature (private school ). It is
highly possible that factors such as social and financial origins crucially
influence the choices of adolescent users. Besides, the research on the
development of social capital through the use of Facebook has indicated
the importance of this medium in the creation of the bonds, which hold
together and cultivate a specific social context (Bourdieu, & Wacquant,
1992:118-119; Lampe et al., 2006; Ellison et al., 2007 ).
Upon examining the differences between the two genders along the
four scales of our three Relationship Types, we observe that there are no
significant deviations. The single, somewhat higher, deviation appeared in
Relationship Type 2 (recently added Facebook friend ) in the scales of selfdisclosure
and trust, where girls gave us higher values. McKenna and her
team (2002 ) observed that girls sometimes use the Internet to develop
feelings of empathy faster than in real life. Also, boys present higher levels
of self-esteem and sociability, although gender differences are more intense
in the former trait than the latter.
Consequently, after examining self-esteem along the four scales of the
three Relationship Types, we can conclude that it has a moderate negative
correlation with attraction and predictability in the case of Relationship
Type 3 (non-Facebook friend ). The confidence which accompanies high
self-esteem is not influenced by the socially defined attraction and the need
to predict the other’s behavior. A similar result is provided in Zywica and
Danowski’s research (2008 ), which compared students with low/high selfesteem
and their popularity on the Internet and in real life.
Sociability did not present any significant correlations with any of the
scales across the three Relationship Types. Maybe this implies a wider
change in the way we perceive sociability, which is now intermediated by
this new medium. The development of internet communication poses new
challenges for the understanding of social relationships, in cyberspace as
well as in real life (Parks & Floyd, 1996 ).
Suggestions for Further Research
In sum, one could maintain that the study of friendship in a virtual
environment could motivate further research, especially on the correlation
of those interacting factors which influence the medium, the users and,
simultaneously, their interpersonal relationships. As for the main research
questions, whether the psychological traits of adolescent Internet users
could provide similar behavioral patterns in the context of their internet
friendships, the answer is that, since users with different psychological
traits can demonstrate an identical behaviors on the Internet, additional
research is needed. This research may be expanded throughout the use of
qualitative methods and the active participation of teenagers throughout
research process. It is, therefore, necessary to make use of personal
interviews, of the data on the users’ pages, the information provided from
the arrangement of their personal space (e.g. their room ) (Pappamikail,
2014 ), the studies on Internet addiction and, of course, the information
from other persons in a teenager’s life (parents, teachers ). The for this is
because since the Internet is a real part of the children’s lives as a whole
and therefore it is a medium, a tool or a hobby in the context of their daily
existence and not a parallel to their “offline” reality (Tsaliki, 2011 ).
From this analysis, this newly found space, cyberspace, has been shown
to naturally unfold. From the onset, any discussion on cyberspace almost
unfailingly emphasized its more exotic capabilities (Parks & Floyd, 1996 ).
However, for most of the students who participated in the research, cyber -
space is just another meeting place. Therefore, if cyberspace is interpreted
as just another place where people can meet, we might need to reevaluate,
as adults, our image and the quality of the relationships we form in this new
space. However, one should be skeptical towards the idea that an Internet
friendship is tantamount to a real-life friendship, a view which is quite
popular among many researchers. The participants in these “imagined ego -
centric communities” (boyd, 2006 ) can express themselves on a personal
level and compose a cultural identity through the environment (e.g. Face -
book ) which provides this potential and imposes personal choices in favor
of communication. Therefore, friendships on Facebook are influenced by
social processes, preexisting social norms as well as the limitations defined
by the medium itself. Nonetheless, it is quite certain that the structure
of social networks is fundamentally different than the structure of the
conventional social space as we know it. boyd (2014 ) wrote that obsession,
compulsion, constant restlessness, mimicking and performing for invisible
audiences are qualities that the participants have to experience when
joining social networking sites. Social scientists, who occupy themselves
with the study of liquid love in our liquid modern world (Bauman, 2003 )
should follow their example and critically approach social networks,
instead of ignoring or simply monitoring them.
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