Highlights from the American Sociological Association annual meeting

Research on social media's reluctant users, marital ideals and single parenthood and intimate victims of cybernastiness presented August 10-13 in New York City

Facebook doesn’t feel right

A big chunk of social media users say that digital communications don’t hold an old fashioned candle to face-to-face conversations. Among 300 tech-savvy college students, roughly half feel uncomfortable interacting on Facebook, Twitter and other social media but do so because it’s unavoidable, Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported on August 10.

Tufekci and Matthew Brashears of Cornell University developed a questionnaire to measure a person’s inability or unwillingness to relate to others via social media as he or she would in person. Tufekci calls this disposition cyberasociality. Students who are cyberasocial show no signature personality traits, such as being especially extraverted or introverted, Tufekci said.

Just as dyslexia became apparent as literacy became widespread, so has cyberasociality emerged in growing digital cultures, Tufekci proposed. Cyberasocial people may feel lonely when plugged into social media, but there’s no good evidence that feelings of isolation plague social media users in general, she said.

A bar to marriage for the poor

Middle class values’ spread among poor black people may help perpetuate single parenthood. Unmarried black parents frequently say they want to get married, but first need to get a decent job and save enough money to buy the proverbial house with a white picket fence, Sara McLanahan of Princeton University reported on August 11. That often unattainable standard makes it hard for partners to commit to a relationship, McLanahan found in studies of unmarried parents. Breakups frequently occur, followed by both partners having additional children in new relationships. As a result, jealousy and mistrust skyrocket between the original partners, frequently erupting in violence.

McLanahan directed two investigations. One project regularly interviewed unmarried parents of about 25,000 first-born children in 20 cities, from the child’s birth to age 9. Researchers have also closely monitored 75 unmarried parents for four years.

The romance of cybercruelty

High school dating can be harsh, especially on the Internet. Teens launch malicious digital attacks most often against past boyfriends or girlfriends and former buddies, reported Diane Felmlee of Penn State University in University Park on August 11. Most attacks occur on Facebook and typically include mean rumors or humiliating images.

In the realm of computerized nastiness, social outcasts in high school largely escape the fray, Felmlee said. Gay students, however, draw more than their share of cyberattacks, including posts that mock them for not being heterosexual.

Felmlee and Robert Faris of the University of California, Davis, interviewed 788 students at a Long Island private high school during the spring of 2011. About 20 percent of the students instigated cyberstrikes or were victims of such attacks.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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