Reshaping of Social Relations through Photosharing

  February 14, 2024   Read time 4 min
Reshaping of Social Relations through Photosharing
The extensive use of social media and social networking websites is a central part of many people’s daily social interactions. Since the arrival of the Internet, indeed, a particular interest in social sciences research was placed on the effects that mediation has on social interactions.

This post highlights the basic concepts concerning social relationships before and after the arrival of the Internet. Starting by defining sociality, it describes the dynamics that structure the creation and the maintenance of the social relationships. It focuses on the affordances brought about by the arrival of the Internet and social media that changed previous experiences of social interactions. Subsequently, it illustrates the development of online communities and social networks as widely used means for social practices, questioning what forces shape people’s online connections. This explanation intends to further explore the elements that determine the development of contemporary mediated sociality that involve visuality as new means for social connection. An important element here is the pervasive use of visuality, with Instagram providing a clear example of how this shapes the way in which we interact online.

In the digital age, physical closeness is not a vital condition for connections and the development of social relationships. In the past, people’s daily social life was determined by the contacts that the immediate space could offer. Social relationships, together with meetings in-person, were facilitated by the use of telephones and letters in particular for people living far apart. Certain elements of sociality adapt with the changes to society itself. Today, social relationships are influenced by the use of new media as they offer spaces where people can manage their social interactions. Following the idea that communities are based on social exchanges, a social networks perspective appears necessary to consider the new forms of socialisation within computer-mediated communication systems.

To contrast with the common belief of loss of community, Poster argued that the term ‘mediated’ needed to replace Anderson’ concept of ‘imagined communities’. Even if the term was coined specifically to talk about nationalism, Anderson’s theorisation has also been widely used in relation to an array of communities, such as the communities of interest mentioned earlier. Anderson’s idea of ‘imagined communities’ can be stretched to denote the fact that, on the Internet, social relationships and online communities are a constructed idea, not necessarily embedded in physical reality. ‘Imagined communities’ are not based on everyday face-to-face social interactions, rather on imagined connections created by people who feel themselves part of specific groups. Transforming the notion of ‘imagined communities’ into ‘mediated communities’, the idea of social relationships online might be translated into the concept of ‘mediated relationships’. Following this, the mediation allowed by social media platforms and smart mobile devices fosters the creation of new social ties and takes into account Poster’s notion of ‘mediation’ as a key factor for online social engagement.

Mediated social relationships can manifest online in various forms, and the use of images is one of those. Analysing the chronology of Instagram, there is a moment when the platform changed its original identity of mere photosharing application into a ‘different social network’, as many Instagram users define it. That moment occurred on 9 April 2012 when Facebook bought Instagram . It was speculated that the main motivation of such a purchase was because Instagram is a mobile application. In fact, this partnership allowed Instagram users’ constant access to their Facebook friends and to have a cross-mediated social experience that visibly increased the practice of photosharing over both platforms. Indeed, photos could be shared on Instagram and Facebook simultaneously. This cross-platform photosharing helped modify the initial Instagram identity of a photosharing smart phone application into a different social network, which fostered the use of visual communication in creating and maintaining social interactions.

For example, Alessandro considers Instagram a different social network precisely because it is based on the sharing of images. In his option, this aspect helps users to feel part of others’ experiences, journeys and so on. Instagram Facebook partnership made many users aware of the existence of Instagram, and this, inevitably started to guide users to approach the practice of photosharing in a more pervasive way and as a means to visually manage social relationships. Indeed, according to Gye, ‘exchanging and sharing personal photographs is integral for the maintenance of relationships’ because, in fact, social ties seems to be strengthened by practices like visual storytelling that complement face-to-face photosharing. Despite the fact that the practice of photosharing appears to be assistive in the creation and maintenance of social relationships, Gye (2007) highlighted that the type of photos that are taken with mobile camera phones often reinforce users’ individuality (selfies are an example of this) rather than creating a sense of community.

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