Positive Effects of Online Communication

Checking off a listWhile many of the early CMC researchers focused on what was missing from online communication when compared to face-to-face approaches (a deficit model), as internet use has become pervasive and technology has matured, new studies have emerged that are less pessimistic. Walther1, an early skeptic, now argues that deficit approaches are no longer relevant, and in fact, much online communication can be now be thought of as being "hyperpersonal" rather than impersonal.

Suffice it to say that current research notes various important benefits that are provided by online communication as people adapt themselves and their tools to suit current circumstances.

Potential Benefits of CMC for Parties Involved

In the context of online dispute resolution work, van Veenen suggests that we consider the following benefits that may be afforded to online participants:

  • More control over presentation
    • Online, people can choose what they wish to reveal about themselves, and no clues about their identity are being given away by other factors such as their dress or appearance. People also have more time to think about their presentation, in particular in asynchronous communication. This allows for more time for self-reflection and for the selection and presentation of the cues that are transmitted.

  • A more level playing field
    • In anonymous conditions such as online communication, individual differences are less readily visible, and become less important. Hierarchies and status issues are much less salient. People are categorized as being members of the group or not, instead of being similar or different to the self. Deindividuation appears to in fact promote closer compliance with group norms when they are clearly presented.

  • Freedom to express personal information
    • CMC allows people to control the presentation of themselves and express their personality in ways that were not possible before. People now look for and find like-minded people via the Internet since it is free of traditional social boundaries. They shape their own social groups according to their own interests, and feel free to express themselves within those groups. Walther describes this kind of behavior as "hyperpersonal communication."

  • New ways to express oneself
    • Walther, among others, argues that people get used to a medium and learn to use it and that, after some time, people develop ways of fulfilling their communication needs that bypass the limitations of the medium. Walther's social information processing (SIP) model suggests that where some cues are filtered out by the medium, other cues are intentionally filtered in2, with emoticons being an early example. Online profiles, nicknames, LOLspeak and more provide new ways to express ideas and emotions and connect with others.

1Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-Mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal Interaction. Communication Research, 23(3), 3-43.

2Walther, J. B., & Parks, M. R. (2002). Cues filtered out, cues filtered in: computer-mediated communication and relationships. In M. L. Knapp & J. A. Daly (Eds.), Handbook of interpersonal communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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