Social Media and Communication Technologies

Learning Objectives


12.1  Identify the warning signs of Internet addiction, depression, and distraction.

12.2  Explain why and how people use social networking sites for identity construction and maintenance and for relational communication.

12.3  Describe potential relationships between social media and social isolation, popularity, and self-disclosure.

12.4  Present an informed opinion in the debate over the merits of face-to-face communication versus computer mediated communication.




Modern communication technology is a double-edged sword: it has both favorable and unfavorable consequences. The very tools that let you stay in touch with friends and express yourself in new ways can also open you up to unwanted evaluation by acquaintances and strangers. There is no inherent good or bad in our new personal communication technologies—the Internet, smartphones and tablets, and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Good and bad reside in the use we make of them, and that is the theme of this chapter.



  • Activity: Are You a True Digital Native?

Take the Pew Research Center’s Internet IQ Test at How did you fare? Are you as Net savvy as you thought you were? Where were the holes, if any, in your knowledge about the Internet?

  • Activity: What’s in the Fine Print?

Find the terms-of-service agreement for one of the social network sites you use. Read it; yes, really read it. What have you agreed to that you were unaware of? Do any of the terms you must now live by bother you? Which ones and why? If none do, explain why not.

·         Activity: Defeat Fake News!

The University of Massachusetts’ W.E.B Du Bois Library maintains a “fake news” resources page. Visit it at, but don’t stop at the first screen you encounter. Search its many resources and apply them to a few online stories that raise your suspicion. How effective are you at identifying and defeating fake news?



1.      What is media richness theory? What do you consider the richest communication medium and the leanest communication medium? Defend your answer.


Sample answer: Media richness theory judges different media’s contribution to meaning making as falling along a continuum of lean to rich, depending on three factors: the presence of instant feedback, the use of multiple cues and natural language, and the medium’s personal focus. The richest medium is face-to-face communication because feedback is immediate, the people talking have multiple cues such as nonverbal codes and the immediate context to help them make meaning, and they are in personal contact, implying a personal focus. The leanest form would be an advertising flier mailed to a million people. There is no personal focus; feedback is delayed and maybe never comes (unless no response is feedback, which it is), and there is only the one cue, the flier.


2.      What are the idealized virtual identity hypothesis and the extended real-life hypothesis? Describe each and then take a side; that is, which do you think is more accurate in how today’s college-age students use social networking to present themselves?


Sample answer: The idealized virtual identity hypothesis is the tendency for people on their social network site profiles to display idealized characteristics that do not reflect their actual personalities. Zywica and Danowski (2008) learned it doesn’t happen very much. In fact, they discovered that for most people, online social networking (OSN) “may constitute an extended social context in which to express one’s actual personality characteristics, thus fostering accurate interpersonal perceptions. OSNs integrate various sources of personal information that mirror those found in personal environments, private thoughts, facial images, and social behavior, all of which are known to contain valid information about personality.” This led them to propose the opposite, that people use social networking sites to communicate their real personality. Research says the second hypothesis is more correct and I agree because most people use social networking as an extension of their real-world social worlds and therefore, identities. Besides, even if people wanted to create false online identities they couldn’t get away with it because their friends would know they were false and call them out on the very same sites they were using to try to fool people.



Go to the Source

Berger, C. R. (2005). “Interpersonal Communication: Theoretical Perspectives, Future Prospects.Journal of Communication, 55: 415–447.

Brandtzæg, P. B. (2012). “Social Networking Sites: Their Users and Social Implications—A Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17: 467–488.

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nadkarni, A., and S. G. Hofmann. (2012). “Why Do People Use Facebook?” Personality and Individual Differences, 52: 243–249.

O’Keeffe, G. S., and K. Clarke-Pearson. (2011). “Clinical Report: The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families.” Pediatrics, 127: 800–804.

Ong, W. J. (2002). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.


This site is a constantly updated collection of interesting, and authoritative, data on all aspects of the Internet and Internet usage.

This site allows you to graphically see how often you Tweet and how popular your Tweets are.

This site presents up-to-date statistics on Facebook’s world-wide population.

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