Ambient intimacy on Twitter

Special issue: Online Self-disclosure and Privacy

Ambient intimacy refers to a feeling of closeness toward certain others developed mainly by following their status updates on social media. Previous researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to develop ambient awareness, that is, knowledge of others, after browsing social media, but it is still unclear whether and to what extent Twitter users also experience ambient intimacy, i.e., emotional closeness to others stemming from merely following them on Twitter. This paper is the first to theoretically distinguish the concept of ambient intimacy from ambient awareness. The paper investigates the degree to which Twitter users experience ambient awareness and intimacy. Moreover, we also examine the role of interaction history and message characteristics in this process. The results showed that Twitter users had experienced ambient intimacy but to a lesser degree than ambient awareness; the majority felt close to only a limited number of people in their Twitter network. Visibility of tweets and one-sided interaction with the target person predicted ambient intimacy. In addition, users were more likely to experience ambient intimacy toward a person when his or her tweets were perceived as more intimate, entertaining, and informative.

Ambient intimacy; parasocial relationship; perceived closeness; self-disclosure; Twitter
Author biographies

Ruoyun Lin

Ruoyun Lin is a PhD student at the Social Media Group at Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Germany. Her research interests focus on various effects of social media usage, with special emphasis on self-disclosure, well-being, social capital, emotional contagion, social comparison, and trust-(re)building. She studied Innovation Sciences at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands (MSc, with great appreciation, 2013).

Ana Levordashka

Ana Levordashka is a PhD student at the Social Media Group at Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, Germany. She studied integrated social and cognitive psychology at Jacobs University Bremen (B.A. in 2011) and completed a research master in social psychology at VU Amsterdam in 2013.

Sonja Utz

Sonja Utz is a professor for communication via social media at University of Tübingen, Germany. She is head of the research lab social media at Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien. Her research focuses on the effects of social media use in interpersonal and professional settings.

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