Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Reading, Writing, Relationships: The Impact
of Social Network Sites on Relations and Well-Being

Moira Burke

December 2011

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Social network sites, social networking sites, online social networks, Facebook, social support, bridging social capital, happiness, satisfaction with life, loneliness, depression, positive affect, negative affect, stress, health, well-being, tie strength, closeness, relationships, network composition, social communication skill, unemployment, job loss, computer-mediated communication, human-computer interaction, computer-supported cooperative work.

The social web has emerged concurrent with a decline in Americans' community involvement and number of close friendships. Hundreds of millions of people connect online, but they appear to have fewer confidants and trust each other less. However, contrasting research finds that web users have better social integration and stronger relationships than their offline counterparts. This thesis resolves these contradictory views through a detailed examination of social network site (SNS) use and changes in relationships and individual well-being.

The research is conducted at multiple levels looking at how different types of SNS use‐direct interaction with others and more "passive consumption" of social news–influence the number and quality of individuals' social ties and their aggregate social capital and well-being, including perceived social support, happiness, and physical health. The studies combine objective measures of SNS use (communication activity from the server logs of a popular social networking site) with self-reports of tie strength and well-being to accurately differentiate types of use with different partners. Longitudinal methods reveal how well-being changes over time with SNS use and are moderated by personal characteristics such as social communication skill and recent job loss.

189 pages

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