Google “Facebook relationships” and you’ll find results like “13 ways Facebook Ruins Your Relationship” or “Facebook Puts Relationships on a Collision Course.” While these claims may have no scientific basis, they do demonstrate how sites like Facebook have completely changed how we interact with each other.
Thanks to social networking sites like Facebook, everything we do online is public and open to commentary. It provides an instant snapshot of our personal history—pictures from parties and vacations, status updates about our feelings or the last movie we watched, and event invitations all provide an instant answer to “what has so-and-so been doing lately?” With social networking, we are constantly and completely connected, which raises the big question: Now that Facebook has electronically enforced our relationships, does it also ruin them?
Studies have found that Facebook does create distinct downsides to relationships. A study of 308 Facebook users found that people who are prone to jealousy will have that jealousy reinforced by using the site. Imagine this scenario: You’re dating a guy, but then you break up. A few days later you’re on Facebook and there’s a picture of your ex with his new girl splattered all over your News Feed—jealously ensues.
Though you are connected to so many people, Facebook also won’t help you make new friends, per se. Several studies have found that Facebook doesn’t help form closer friendships and that people are not likely to use it to initiate new connections.
Besides personal relationships, your business and career relationships can be negatively affected as well. The same pictures from that party last week where you hooked up with the cute guy from Chemistry can be interpreted as fun by your friends, but can haunt you later if it’s seen by recruiters and potential employers. One article cited that more than half of all employers check candidates’ Facebook pages. Some colleges even use Facebook to see exactly what kind of students they are admitting before sending out letters. It’s become a new standard for deciphering personalities and forming first impressions, which can become overwhelming since your relationships can be easily affected by your online persona.
On the flip side, the exponential growth and popularity of Facebook is a result of its positive influence as well. The simplicity of reaching out to an old friend or colleague through this network shows how Facebook makes existing relationships easier to support and can also decrease the cost of maintaining them, because staying in touch is so easy. It’s like having a constantly updating Rolodex for each of your friends—if someone moves, you still have a means of getting in touch with them.
The longevity and magnitude of Facebook’s influence on relationships comes down to the reasoning behind why Facebook has succeeded—at least so far—while Friendster and MySpace (remember those?) have not. By extorting the public sphere and mapping a web of connections between people on a scale that can be at once intrusive and yet make the world more intimate, Facebook has and likely will continue to shape our relationships from here on out—whether it’s for better or worse.