International Journal of Internet Science

A peer reviewed open access journal for empirical findings, methodology, and theory of social and behavioral science concerning the Internet and its implications for individuals, social groups, organizations, and society.

Volume 1, Issue 1 (Special Issue, March 2006)

Online Friendship Formation, Communication Channels, and Social Closeness
Gustavo Mesch, Ilan Talmud
Oxford Internet Institute and University of Haifa, Israel, Department of Sociology and Anthropology University of Haifa, Israel

Abstract: Studies of the quality of online social relationships are divided in their conclusions regarding the strength of social ties. Early conceptualizations described the weakness of electronic media in supporting social ties. By contrast, others have emphasized the compensating character of the Internet for specific social groups. This study investigated differences between adolescents who created online friendships and those who did not, and how far the place where a friend was met (online or face to face) was related to the quality of social relationships, namely the perceived strength of social ties. Examining the dyadic friendship structure of a representative sample of Israeli adolescents, the study provides important contributions to the rapidly growing literature on online social relationships in general, and on youth networks in particular. The results support the social compensation approach to the study of online social relationship formation. The motivation for online friendship formation proved to be related to adolescents' attempts to compensate for a lack of social support by using the Internet for communication. Furthermore, while face-to-face relationships remained highly important, for those adolescents who found in the Internet others with whom they developed intimacy, online ties were strong and meaningful. Additionally, adolescents with strong virtual ties were found to be distinctive in their social background. Our findings call for a qualification of the theoretical approach to online social ties, and simply that it is not the technology per se that obstructs or facilitates the formation of social friendship but the social embeddedness of the ties.

Keywords: Adolescents, computer mediated communication, online friendship formation, social networks, tie strength

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