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23 February 2017

Baguette vs. Toast: Cultural Differences in Facebook Communication

Keywords: North America, Western Europe, friendships, media, social media, social skills, young adults,

Social networking platforms like Facebook offer the opportunity to communicate with others both in a one-to-one (personal) and one-to-many (masspersonal) style. The extent to which both communication styles are used depends on people’s cultural background, a study in Computers in Human Behavior shows. The study compared students’ Facebook use in two Western countries differing in levels of individualism: France and the U.S. It appears that the masspersonal style of communication is more common among the more individualistic U.S. students, partly because they have larger Facebook networks.

Take aways

  • The way Facebook users communicate depends on their cultural background:
    • American students, who live in a country with greater individualistic values, use more masspersonal (one-to-many) communication than French students.
    • French students, who live in a less individualistic country, use more personal (one-to-one) communication than American students.
  • Masspersonal communication may be a behavior that is adopted to handle large social networks across cultural contexts.
  • Even though French Facebook users will adopt masspersonal communication behaviors as their social networks get larger, they do not seem to abandon intimate, particularistic exchanges. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Living in a less individualistic country - do French students use masspersonal communication less frequently and private communication more frequently than American students? 

  • Who?

    260 14- to 22-year-old French students (mean age: 17 years old); 78,46% girls (N = 204), 18,07% boys (N = 47) and 166 15- to 22- year-old American students (mean age: 18 years old); 45,18% girls (N = 75), 53,61% boys (N = 89)

  • Where?

    France, United States

  • How?

    Participants filled out a questionnaire in paper form, including questions about the size of their Facebook network, their status updates, comments, wall posts (on own profile versus friends’ profiles), private messages, and instant messages. Additionally, the researchers examined masspersonal and personal communication with friends and acquaintances on Facebook  by asking participants to indicate the frequency of using certain Facebook features. Personal communication activities included the usage of Facebook chats and Facebook messages, whereas masspersonal communication activities included posting status updates, posting to their own page, commenting on status updates or photos, replying to a friend's comments, and posting a message on a Facebook friend's wall.

Facts and findings

  • Living in a more individualistic society, American students had larger Facebook networks than French students.
  • Students in both countries used more personal and masspersonal Facebook communication with friends than with acquaintances.
  • American students used more masspersonal and personal communication with acquaintances than French students.
  • French students used more personal communication with friends than Americans.
  • Differences between countries in the frequency of using masspersonal communication were mediated by the network size, meaning that American students had more Facebook friends and in turn, used more masspersonal communication.
  • Interesting finding: When comparing a French and American student with the same network size, the French student used more personal communication than the American.