By Alison K Lanier
We hear again and again that the world is more connected than ever by technology, especially by the Internet. Despite this practical bond, members of social network sites, like Facebook, find themselves with hundreds of online friends but a dearth of a real sense of connectedness. The Atlantic magazine recently reported on the mental health dangers of living an online life. Users find themselves enmeshed in an online swamp where, despite the extensive network, they find themselves as solitary as ever before.
But in spite of online social networking’s diagnosis as isolating rather than engaging, blogging has conversely been shown to boost a sense of companionship and well-being for writers. These dual—but not contradictory—sides of social networking reveal that, rather than an anonymous, Internet-fast rat race, social sites offer a healthy balance of practical connection and a sense of community.
Online Social Networking: A Numbers Game of “Likes” and Status Updates
With Facebook pioneering the way users connect with others from around the globe, it acts as a hub of activity where millions congregate to share the details of their day-to-day lives. It enables communication with a speed and uniformity never seen before. This forum for Internet-age socialization has, ironically, given the Internet a bad name in terms of supporting healthy social behavior.
Facebook and similar social networking sites have the tendency to reduce the actual lives of their users to a stream of information with the number of “likes” on statuses, the number of comments on a picture, or the number of messages with a contact create a forum full of quantifiable values—an arena where interactions can be publicly tallied and weighed. Words like “friends” on these sites quickly become hollow.
These numbers upon numbers create an unspoken competition. The information users put forward—statuses, school or job updates, events—all vie for other members’ attention. Success or failure is immediately visible. Connectedness becomes a race for appreciation, where disappointment can destroy a user’s sense of approval.
At the same time, actual social interaction suffers. Users may put so much emphasis into online interactions with their vast pool of “friends,” and with submitting and absorbing information, that actual face-to-face socialization falls by the wayside. Social networking sites are places where friendship and involvement is “broader but shallower” as Steven Marche states in his Atlantic Magazine article, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Facebook creates a marketplace of popularity, where what you say is appreciated or ignored, and where your victory or disappointment can be weighed in numbers by any one of your hundreds of “friends.”
Study Finds Writing a Blog Helps a Person Feel Greater Social Support
Research from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, has shown that the opposite of the isolating “Facebook effect” holds true. The university’s study found that after two months, participants who wrote a blog post felt a greater level of social support than study participants who didn’t. The study’s findings defy the almost-adjudge truth that the Internet is essentially a practical, anonymous and negative social environment.
Blogging has a very different structure than Facebook’s public, formulated network. Instead of amassing social “data” through numbers of “likes” and friends, blogs enable their writers to create a space where their voice is unique and solitary rather than one status competing in a flood of information. Bloggers write about anything from their day-to-day lives and news events to their opinion of a TV show or a new car model. They become the proprietor of a personalized Internet locale dedicated to the writer as an individual. Rather than a journal-like format, a blogger can also generate more non-personal material, expressing themselves through, for instance, fashion photography or posting favorite travel destinations. There are plenty of sites where you can start a blog or browse blogs created by others—Blogger, LiveJournal, Tumblr, Weebly and WordPress to name a few.
Blogs are also a more exclusive environment for writers’ self-expression. The readers who subscribe to or comment on blogs tend to be groups of like-minded people. These readers visit the blog because they are genuinely interested in the blog’s topic. It’s true that there may be a window of time and effort before a following appears and the writer isn’t blogging to themselves. But, eventually, having this audience in place gives the blogger a sense of continuity, stability, and most importantly support, with a guarantee that the thoughts and reflections they post will be read and appreciated rather than becoming an “un-liked” note slipping by on a Facebook newsfeed.
Difference between Support Given After Negative Comments on Blogs and Facebook
No online environment is perfectly positive all of the time. Hateful commentary is posted in response to blogs just like it is to Facebook statuses. Unlike the infamous cyberbullying on Facebook, hateful or negative commentary on blogs is far more likely to be posted by someone the blogger doesn’t know. Although it’s always disheartening, there’s a healthy separation between real-life interaction and the blogger’s online experience. One of the most damaging aspects of cyberbullying is that the face-to-face intimidation gets bundled together with online bullying, thus following the user home.
The same dedicated audience that follows the blog also tends to provide more support in response to online hate. Rather than well-known names and faces linked with Facebook responses, blogs carry the potential for anonymity. While this allows for negative, anonymous messages, it also reduces the stigma of coming to a blogger’s defense. Bloggers, unlike residents of social network sites, can create an environment that will literally defend them when negativity strikes. The readers surrounding a blog have the chance to become more of a community than a population.
Maintaining the Balancing Act between Social Network Newsfeeds and Blog Posts
The revolutionary, practical side of online social networking and its ability to connect people makes social networking sites like Facebook not exactly a necessary evil, but a slightly bitter pill best taken in moderation. Creating an exclusive audience, bloggers avoid the alienating flood of statuses, “likes,” groups and “friends.” According to research, blogs are a community space that gives writers a sense of appreciation, expanding the notion that cyberspace is truly dedicated to individuality.