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Reality TV begets "promiscuous friending".

A relationship between reality television viewing and "promiscuous friending" on popular social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook, has been found in a study of television viewing and communication patterns among young adults by University at Buffalo (N.Y.) researchers, who link this conduct to ordinary people modeling the behavior of reality TV celebrities. Such individuals are creating "mediated social selves" that the researchers describe as identities crafted for, presented on, and "known" through media.

According to the study, heavy reality television (RTV) viewers not only spend more time on sites like Facebook, they have larger social networks, share more photos, and are more likely to engage in "friendships" with people with whom they have no off-line relationship, a practice known as promiscuous friending. The study indicates an erosion of the distinction between the everyday world and the celebrity world, in which common people claim intimacy with the completely mediated identities of such celebrities as Britney Spears or Brad Pitt.

These heavy RTV viewers also produce a significantly larger number of mediated selves and have a greater intimacy toward, and urge to interact with, the mediated social images of others. All of these, point out the researchers, are commonly considered celebrity behaviors. "We found robust, systematic, and statistically significant differences between viewers and nonviewers of RTV in terms of the behavior indices used here," explains Michael A. Stefanone, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, noting that other categories of television viewing, like news, fiction, and educational programming are not related to users' online behavior.

"Our research is founded on the premise that the confluence of the rising popularity of both RTV and Web 2.0 applications has resulted in a fundamental shift in people's roles as media content consumers and producers."

The study used social cognitive theory as the theoretical foundation for a survey of young adults, hypothesizing that they would find the positive relationship between RTV consumption and behaviors believed to reflect the systemic processing of messages and behavior modeled within the RTV genre. "Promiscuous frienders may be reproducing the fame-seeking behavior that is modeled by reality TV characters," Stefanone declares, adding that these behaviors are believed to reflect the systematic processing of messages and behaviors modeled within the RTV genre.

"Recall that the critical change in people's media diets over the past 15 years lies in a shift from consumption to production," he notes. "Internet users are faced with low time and financial costs as they enthusiastically contribute to the production of mass media. As RTV viewing increases, so, too, does the likelihood that these roles will be adopted en masse as people's interpersonal communication becomes increasingly mediated, which is to say, dependent on an intervening agent like computers."

In fact, as Stefanone points out, many people already see images of celebrities--heavily crafted and edited social and photographic images--far more often than they see those of friends and family members. People also use communication technologies to "interact" with their idols in many new ways, such as "sighting" them--even stalking them--and posting their real-time whereabouts on online maps. "There also are chat rooms on celebrity websites offering discussion with the celebrity and sites that promise a direct link for members to communicate with celebrities and famous people."

Stefanone feels future research should address how the contemporary definition of "friend" is changing. "Having a large social network on a SNS can be construed as a sign of popularity and, conversely, as a sign of superficiality--for example, 'Facebook whore' is a term for blatant SNS status seekers."

In either case, a large friends list implies a large number of social connections, even if many of them have little social value in the traditional sense of friendship. In this scenario, users are competing actively for attention via expansive social networks. "As the debate about whether Internet-based communication tools are enhancing our social lives or restricting them continues, additional research is needed to explore people's motivations to connect and ultimately whether these contacts have instrumental utility for users. Perhaps these tools are simply the latest platforms on which people compete for attention."
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Title Annotation:Mass Media
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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