Prison internet dating psychology research
Often written off as passing fads for teenagers, these websites now have billions of users – not only with Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, You Tube, Instagram and My Space in the West, but with hugely popular sites like Tencent Weibo, Vkontakt and Orkut in the rest of the world. But, from the point of view of peer-reviewed psychological research, what do we know about what makes these websites popular?
Behavioural and cognitive Almost a truism at this stage, the human preference for novelty first described by Lord Kames (Home, 1823) plays into the attractiveness of social media.
While technically defined as ‘the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system’, it basically means that there is little point in joining a service unless your friends are on it.
Again this shows why Facebook originally concentrated on specific universities as these provided readymade populations of interconnected individuals.
For example, after we have run out of people we know, we will move on to people we only slightly know, who are less likely to reciprocate when we ‘add as friend’ or ‘follow’ them. This was gradually extended to global universities, then all adults, and eventually high school pupils, but its growth relied initially on a variation on the scarcity heuristic (Cialdini, 2001). While not many other sites have used this particular gradation mechanism, nearly all new services begin life with ‘invite only’ or ‘waiting list’ messages. When I first considered writing an article like this some years ago, I imagined that Facebook would become supplanted by some other website, in the same way that it had displaced My Space. ‘I’ll see you on IM, text, or call you’: A social network approach of adolescents’ use of communication media.
Yet Facebook is now more globally dominant than ever, and, as if to underline my hubris, My Space is resurgent. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(2), 75–85.
It is to be expected that new users of social media will first connect with other users they already know, who should be most likely to accept their invitations.