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Social media and technology-mediated social interactions

Social media relates directly to our concepts of self and how we present ourselves. Higgins (1987) proposed that there are three domains: our actual self, our ideal self and our ought self. The online environment means that we can project any one of these, or a combination of them, to the outside world. We can select and edit the messages we present about ourselves to reveal socially desirable attributes or dimensions (Walther, 1996).

The public nature of social media motivates people to manage the impressions they create more carefully, and the likelihood of future interactions increases the motivation to monitor these impressions more closely. Online personas typically offer a slightly idealised version of the offline self (Zhao et al., 2008).

Twomey and O'Reilly (2017) carried out a systematic review of research on the associations of self-presentation on Facebook with mental health and personality variables. They found that:

When viewing online information about others, we are more likely to trust information that cannot be easily manipulated (the warranting principle) (Walther & Parks, 2002). The use of multiple images of ourselves results in increased levels of perceived intimacy, informality and composure (Ramirez-Correa et al., 2015).

Mitchell et al. (2011) gave listeners different test voices and then offered to fill in the tests and recorded the subconscious choices of the subjects. They found that men usually choose female voices, although subconsciously they do not show any obvious preferences. Women, however, consciously and subconsciously choose women's voices. Female synthesised voices were described as sounding 'warmer' than male synthesised voices and were preferred by female participants. Men showed no gender bias in their implicit responses to synthesised voices. It is probably no coincidence then that the majority of 'virtual assistant' voices (Siri, Alexa, Google, etc) are female.

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Asynchronicity gives us time to think about how we present ourselves and what others are writing. We can edit our self-presentation and comments (within the constraints of the social media app/site), and we can reallocate our cognitive resources as required (we can invest our attention and thought into how we present ourselves, what we will write and what others are writing).

Linking back to the persuasion section within this unit and the discussion of in-groups versus out-groups, social media can have an impact on our perceptions of group affiliation and membership. We have a need for high self-esteem, and being tied to a social group fulfils that need: we compare our in-group with an out-group, and our nature is to find favour with our in-group. Being associated with a devalued group can result in negative outcomes. We might engage in identity management strategies if our group is devalued.

Schmalz et al. (2015) examined messages sent via short message service (SMS, ie text messages) as a means of coping with a threatened social identity. They looked at how people who had an identification with a college undergoing a public scandal used social media to exchange information and connect with others who also had an identification with that college.

They found that people who highly identified as linked to the college were both likely to either use social media or to sign off social media as the news unfolded. Older participants were more likely to sign off and avoid social media, while those who used social media used it for social support, seeking out news and educating others on the details of the case.

Young adults use their mobile phones twice as much as they may estimate that they do, for an average of five hours a day (Andrews et al., 2015). A third of smartphone owners check their device for messages at night, and a sixth reply to them (Deloitte, 2016). One in ten admit to checking their phones during sex (Kushlev et al., 2016).

When separated from their phones, many individuals experience anxiety (Cheever et al., 2014) and physiological withdrawal-like symptoms (Cheever et al., 2018), with phantom phone vibrations being experienced by many (Kruger & Djerf, 2016).

Increased social media usage has a negative correlation with academic performance (Samaha & Hawi, 2016 ; Jacobsen & Forste, 2011; Sánchez-Martínez & Otero, 2009).

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is "a worry that friends may be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent" (Dossey, 2014, p. 69). Devices provide quick access to rewards that encourage and reinforce checking behaviours. Billieux et al. (2015) discuss the 'reassurance seeking pathway', whereby people with low self-esteem, loneliness or anxiety may use access to social media to reassure themselves.