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How New Media Has Changed The Public Space/Community Of Gay And Lesbian In Mainland China
This aim of this research study was to investigate the impacts of social networking sites on homosexuals’ communication and dating habits in Mainland China. Alongside this major aim the research study also sought to establish if there are any traces of cultural transmission among homosexuals living in Mainland China and if such cultural transmissions are occasioned by social networking sites.
To achieve these major aims, the study carried out a comprehensive review of the existing relevant literature. This accorded the researcher the opportunity to organize ideas and most importantly, it advised the study in terms of how social networking sites affecting socializing habits among marginalized groups in the society.
Alongside the secondary information gathered through the review of the existing relevant literature, the study employed a descriptive qualitative design to gather first-hand information from the sampled participants. This involved sending semi-structured questionnaires to the participants via the post office. The collected information was analyzed using a qualitative data analysis method of coding and drawing of short memos.
The analyzed results showed that indeed social networking sites plays a core role in the enhancement of communication, interaction, and dating among gay men and lesbians living in Mainland China. The study also found that the use of social networking sites by homosexuals in Mainland China is a matter of necessity as there are no other reliable avenues for socialization given that gay men and lesbians faces the risk of attracting public backlash in the event they publicly declare their sexual orientation. Overall, it was established that social networking sites helps in the transmission of the gay and lesbian culture in Mainland China.
Major gains have been made in the realm of information communication technology (ICT). The fruits of these gains are manifested in the form of the mushrooming of new, vibrant forums/mediums that enable real-time exchange of information in both real and virtual worlds. The emergence of the internet, for instance, has enhanced the sprouting of social networking sites where members can carry out live chats as well as share instant messages with other members of the virtual world. Another phenomenal observation that can be made regarding the contemporary communication modes is the growth in the number of mergers among big media companies. Cao (2009) asserts that a number of media companies have resorted to entering into various forms of mergers with other media companies sharing similar ideologies as a way of reducing competition, entering into new markets, and most importantly, as a way of enhancing synergy.
Ideally, these mergers have enhanced the process of democratization and in extension, globalization as members of the public can easily learn and understand their rights and responsibilities. Moreover and as Ogbomo and Ogbomo (2008) posits, gains made in the realm of information communication technology have enhanced the propensity for members of public to take part in affairs that directly and/or indirectly affect their socio-economic and political welfare. For instance, members of public today can take part in online polls that tests the importance of intended policy change frameworks by the government. Moreover, through the use of social networking sites, members of the public can easily get to learn about new lifestyles, for example, an emerging fashion design. Even so, it is wise to highlight that some of these innovations have lead to the erosion of the held moral standards. For example and as Cao (2009) asserts, the integration and merging of large media companies has threatened the respective cultural values of the news markets they enter as they make it very easy for the learning of new cultural practices some of which may have negative ramifications to the local communities. The issue of homosexuality is a typical case that attests to this example. In China for instance, homosexuality is legally and morally unacceptable yet it has continued to proliferate courtesy of the new media (social networking sites) that make it easy for gays and lesbians to find and convince heterosexuals to convert into homosexuals.
Ogbomo and Ogbomo (2008) as well as a host of other authors believe that the contemporary world has become a village courtesy of the far reaching networks that have been opened up by the modern information communication technology. One of the most notable modes of communication that has helped to open up the globe is the social networking sites technology, a highly interactive innovation that allows for people to sign up to be members where they can post their personal information and most importantly, share any information of public and/or personal importance (Boyd, 2007). For example, some of the most popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Friendster, Netlog, Orkut, and 2go allow their users to post their photographs, form interest groups, chat in real-time, send messages, and even make free and/or paid-for calls to their friends. Apart from allowing their members to communicate with other members, these social networking sites also create a friendly environment for easy interaction for those members who share common interests (Cohen, 2003). For instance, though Facebook has experienced exponential growth over the years since its inception, evidence shows that it was formed to help college students to share issues touching on their socio-academic lives (Cassidy, 2006). Moreover and drawing from Boyd (2007) as well as Cohen (2003) it is wise to assert that all the other social networking sites were formed to serve a certain unique group of users.
Even with the growth in size and scope, contemporary social networking sites continue to share a common unique modus operandi. For instance, a member may feel obligated to add friends who share common unique features such as blood groups, liking for a certain sport or profession, or even sexual orientation. The growth of these unique groups within the social networking sites has helped to indirectly and/or directly champion the cause of certain lifestyles as members tend to build and cultivate virtual interpersonal links among themselves (Boyd, 2007). Evidence also shows that depending on the strength of the interpersonal relationships cultivated thereof, sometimes members belonging to specific interest groups may even arrange for the holding of real meeting as a way of championing the cause of their new lifestyle (Cassidy, 2006). When this happens then, such specific interest groups may be described as highly emotive. According to Lampe and Steinfield (2006), some of these specific interest groups may champion issues that may be legally and morally unacceptable to the society yet with the influx of social networking sites they have continued to spread unabated courtesy of the virtual world media.
One of the earliest social networking sites was Friendster. In 2002, Friendster was launched as part of a strategy to reduce the growth of Match.com, a popular site that specialized in bringing together persons (Boyd, 2006b). Before Friendster came in, the focus of Match.com as well as a host of other dating sites was to bring together persons with almost similar interests, for example, teachers, sportsmen, Catholics, Muslims, etc. On the contrary, Friendster adopted a much ambitious approach that involved linking friends-of-friends. The underlying notion was that unlike complete strangers, friends-of-friends would offer more incentives for hooking-up as the chances that they shared some interests would be very high. According to Boyd (2004), this innovative strategy helped the site to become popular with homosexuals who for a long time had been given a blackout by most social networking sites perhaps because their influence was thought to be inconsequential. Within a short time, Friendster gained popularity perhaps because the existing members quickly and enthusiastically spread out through word of mouth its popularity in normal social circles. Though Friendster’s popularity waned due to technical incapacitations, its rapid growth played a core role in the sprouting up of other social networking sites (Boyd, 2006a; 2006b).
Beginning 2003, many social networking sites sprouted up. Sailing of Friendster’s success story, majority of the social networking sites that sprouted up during this time adopted more ambitious strategies, targeting new audiences and bringing in completely new products that were not available in early online sites. This was a time that professional sites such as Xing, LinkedIn as well as Visible Path become very popular among the business community. In addition, new sites started looking for common interests among strangers and hooking-up those found to have common interests. Sites such as Dogster fit in this description (Boyd, 2006a). Other sites offered services for specific groups such as travelers and Christians, with Couchsurfing and MyChurch fitting this description (Boyd, 2006a). Even websites who initially offered social media services, converted into social networking sites, for example, Flickr which initially specialized in photo-sharing services started offering services fitting the social networking sites traits (Boyd, 2006a). In the ensuing years, other sites such as MySpace (in 2003) and Facebook (in 2004) as well as a host of others which targeted the mainstream public or even a specific audience have continued to grow in size and scope (Cassidy, 2006).
Ideally and according to Boyd and Ellison (2006), it can be postulated that the growth of social networking sites has been occasioned by the notion that they are built around people – they are focused in enhancing the growth of networks and not groups. These networks have played a big role in the way persons with what can be termed as “weird” lifestyles such as gay men and lesbians interact with each other. In addition and as Boyd (2006a) posits, popular services such as the opportunity to make semi-public profiles, share pertinent profile information with others, and most importantly, attract others to join their network.
According to Pilecka (1999), homosexuality is a broad term. It is used colloquially to refer to sexual activity perpetuated by persons of the same gender, in this case, men and men or women and women. Men who enter into relationships with other men are referred to as gay men while women who enter into relationships with other women are referred to as lesbians. Even so and as Pilecka (1999) clarify, for one to be regarded as being homosexual, he or she needs to have done more than merely engaging sexual activity with members of the same gender. This is because homosexuality is a condition. Persons who qualify to be referred to as homosexuals normally express whether in public or in private sexual desires and/or liking to persons of the same gender. From a Chinese context, it can be deduced that homosexuality dates back to Chinese civilization (Kang, 2009). Nevertheless, it is interesting to highlight that despite being one of the oldest lifestyles in the history of the country, the contemporary Chinese culture is yet to accept homosexuality.
Perhaps the major reason why homosexuality has not been accepted in China is because of the popularly held Yin and Yang philosophy. As a matter of fact, He and Fang (1989) argue that the philosophy literally perceives things as either Yin or Yang. He and Fang (1989) also clarify that sometimes a Yin can be a Yang, and indicator that persons of the same gender cannot engage in sexual activities unless in instances when one of them is having sexual parts of the opposite gender. To this end, homosexuals rarely inform their families of their sexual orientation for fear of rejection. Even so, the fact that homosexuality is legally and culturally prohibited in China does not mean that the vice has not been growing over the years. As a matter of fact, research carried out at Qingdao University shows that as many as 30 million Chinese men and women are homosexuals, with indicators showing that there are more lesbians than gay men. This relatively large number of homosexuals in the country can only be interpreted to mean failure on the part of the society to inculcate sound family and life values among the local population.
The contemporary world is highly networked and globalized. The gains made in the realms of information communication technology have made it easier for people to interact and make friends with others from distant places. This intensive interaction has been occasioned by the various transport and communication modes available, some of which include air transport, telephone as well as internet communication. Internet communication, which is by far the most important communication innovation, has taken the world by a storm as it enables people to discreetly interact in a special way. One of the most popular online ways of communication is through the social networking sites. The fact that these social networking sites have not been in operation for a lengthy period makes research on how they impact weird social behaviors such as homosexuality to be scarce. For instance, one may wonder how the new and vibrant communication modes enhanced by social networking sites impact on how gay and lesbians create new networks among themselves. This question can be asked in the wake of the reality social networking sites allow instant messaging services that make it very easy for strangers to gain access to intimate information without the need of making formal requests for permission to do so.
Unlike other societal issues, matters pertaining to homosexuality are rarely discussed openly due to the stigma associated with the lifestyle. It is therefore very hard for homosexuals to share their feelings or even identify partners as they cannot do it openly as their heterosexuals do. Matters are made more complex by the fact that persons are not born with homosexuality feelings but pick them during their normal socialization endeavors. The big question here is how are such persons expected to smoothly lead their “weird” lifestyles if the society does not provide them with ample space where they can openly discuss pertinent issues touching on their lifestyles? In fair terms there exists a huge information gap among homosexuals. However, given that there has been an increase in the number of gay men and lesbians, it is only wise to argue that there must be a popular forum/media from where homosexuals can discreetly interact, date, and share pertinent information about their lifestyle. The emergence of virtual communication via social networking sites such as Facebook, Netlog, 2go, and Twitter offers that opportunity.
This overarching postulation draws its impetus from the fact that information retrieved from the internet (some of which may be inform of motion pictures) has a huge impact on the day-to-day behavior of the users (Ward, 2002). Moreover and based on cultivation theory, it is only wise to assert that information laced with homosexual messages may have a very huge impact on formed attitudes towards homosexual behavior. This postulation draws its impetus from Ward (2002) who argues that too much exposure to sexual materials through popular mediums such as the internet may enhance the propensity to develop a craving for sexual intercourse. As it stands, the literature on the impact of social networking sites (being the popular media among the youth) on homosexual dating habits is still very limited. It is therefore hoped that this study findings will fill this knowledge gap, particularly in regard to the Mainland China context.
This study’s general objective is to investigate the effects of social media on homosexuals’ communication and dating habits in Mainland China.
Alongside the general objective outlined above, this study will be guided by the following specific objectives:
- To investigate if uncensored, discreet communication leads to meaningful change on homosexuals’ real-world lifestyles in Mainland China.
- To investigate if there are any traces of cultural transmission among gay men and lesbians living in Mainland China.
- To investigate if such cultural transmissions (if any) are occasioned by social networking sites.
Alongside the above outlined general and specific study objectives, this study will seek to answer the following research questions:
- What are the effects of new media (social networking sites) on homosexuals’ communication and dating habits in Mainland China?
- Does uncensored, discreet communication lead to meaningful change on homosexuals’ real-world lifestyles?
- Are there any traces of cultural transmission among homosexuals living in Mainland China?
- Are such cultural transmissions (if any) occasioned by social networking sites?
The study seeks to establish how new media has changed the way and manner in which homosexuals communicate and link up with one another in Mainland China. The study will target all the residents of Mainland China. However, due to time and monetary limitations, the researcher restricts his emphasis on Guangdong, his resident province of more than ten years.
The related studies and concepts reviewed in this study help in determining the influence of social networking sites on the homosexuals’ communication and dating habits. As this and the next chapter shows, a number of studies have dealt with social networking sites and their effects on teenagers in different aspects. However, the effects of social media on homosexuals communication and dating habits has not been studied, although some of the aforementioned studies have tackled somewhat similar aspects to the study topic.
The researcher sought to determine the effects of social media on homosexual communication and dating habits in Mainland China. This is relatively a very important social topic whose significance will be felt by a number of parties listed below:
Guidance Counselors: This study will help impart guidance counselors with critical knowledge on how social networking sites impact sexual orientations. By do so, the study will help them to cultivate good rapport with homosexuals and to give accurate advices to their patients experiencing problems involving social networking sites.
Social Networking Sites Developers: The result of this study will make developers of different social networking sites aware of the influences of the social networking sites that they are maintaining and making. Because of this, they will try their best to develop social networking sites that good and that promote the social wellbeing of their members.
Future Researchers: The findings of this study will be of significance use to persons interested in furthering research in this specific social area as it will serve as a reference for critical information.
Social Networking: This is the act of building new social links by way of identifying and utilizing common interests such as religious orientations, sexual orientations, and political affiliations, etc.
Social Networking Site: These are virtual communities comprising of persons espousing a set of common interests and/or interests that can be categorized into specific networks.
Being the second chapter of the study, this chapter covers an extensive review of the existing relevant literature of the study topic. In other terms, the chapter offers a justification of the espoused conceptual literature gathered from a range of literary sources which include books, journals, researches, reports, as well as authentic online sources. Based on Creswell (2003) postulations, the content of the chapter has been arranged in a simple manner so as to offer the audience an easy time when trying to link the study findings with the existing relevant literature. In addition, the presentation of the reviewed relevant literature was done in tandem with the study aims and objectives as well as the set research questions outlined in the previous chapter. To this end, the following two major areas are covered: Social networking; popular social networking sites in China; manifestations of homosexuality, and homosexuality in China.
The most notable earliest social networking site was Friendster. Formed in 2002, this site was aimed at curtailing the growth of a rival site that specialized in hooping-up people looking for casual love (Boyd, 2006b). Match.com as well as other early sites focused on finding and hooking-up persons sharing the same interests and/or activities. However, when Friendster came in, there was a shift in focus. This is because Friendster started linking users to friends-of-friends, with the underlying premise being that unlike the situation with complete strangers, there would be more common interests with friends-of-friends. Based on Boyd (2004) opinions, this innovative strategy not only helped Friendster to grow in size and scope but it also helped existing as well as new social networking sites to register large number of users within a very short time. As a matter of fact, this new strategy helped to increase the number of homosexuals joining online sites. This is because more homosexuals were able to easily stumble upon potential partners courtesy of the friends-of-friends strategy which meant that they could find new friends through their existing friends (Boyd, 2006a).
Friendster popularity was however short lived. The surge in subscribers meant that the company’s servers which were meant to serve few subscribers were no longer capable of handling the overwhelming numbers of subscribers. Many times users were frustrated by frequent network outages making them consider migrating to other new sites. As a result, other sites sprouted up to serve the frustrated as well as new potential subscribers who were eager to join the virtual world. New sites such as Facebook, Xing, LinkedIn, and Visible Path which were launched beginning from 2003 increased the number of services to woe as many subscribers as possible. Other sites targeted special audiences such as travelers, students, vacationers, etc. (Boyd, 2006a). These sites registered phenomenal success occasioning conventional websites who did not initially offer social networking services to consider converting into social networking sites. A good example of one of these new social sites is Flickr which initially specialized in photo-sharing services (Boyd, 2006a). The contemporary social networking sites offer a wide range of products, they have large subscriber base, and they have strong and efficient servers. Facebook, for instance, is the leading social networking site with a huge subscriber base of about 750 million as of July 2011 (Swartz, 2011).
According to Cassidy (2006), social networking sites have revolutionized socialization habits. As defined in the preceding chapter, social networking sites provide a virtual, sensational platform where users can post their personal information as well as view other users’ personal information with much ease. This personal information may include details such as the age, gender, educational background, hobbies, and most importantly, the social networks that the user subscribes to (Boyd, 2006a). This critical information can be utilized in a wide range of areas. For example, business entities that are in essence the sole sources of revenue for social networking sites are aware that the social networking sites users are potential consumers of their products (Cassidy, 2006). As a matter of fact, these sites make it possible for business enterprises to advertise their products through the placement of embedded adverts. Online educational interactions are also made possible through highly interactive teacher-students programs. In addition, artists can easily reach large audiences by posting their new releases as well as their profiles in these sites. On the other hand, socio-groups such as religious organizations and welfare associations use these social networking sites to champion their cause, recruit new members, inform their members of upcoming events, and even disseminate literature to woe new members (Boyd, 2007).
From a different perspective, users of social networking sites can easily meet and develop strong interpersonal relationships with other users particularly if they share common interests (Boyd, 2006b). This is perhaps the most important benefit that users of these sites can get, after all, the sites are meant for the enhancement of social ties (Cassidy, 2006). Basing on Boyd (2007) definition of interpersonal ties to be the long-term and sometimes short-term association comprising of either two or even more persons, it is wise to argue that the success of social sites in achieving their noble goal of socialization can only be measured by the density of the interpersonal ties network nodes. The denser these network nodes are the more socialized members of a social networking sites are. To this end, these sites must endeavor to make it easy for their users to identify other users who share their interests (Cassidy, 2006). Most social sites are aware of this strategy as they require users to create personal profiles that have pertinent details touching on their families, marital status, social habits, employment details, educational background, religious and political affiliations, as well as their residential areas. As Lampe, Ellison, and Steinfield (2006) offer, it is these core personal indicators that form the basis of the interpersonal networks nodes.
All these socio-economic and political interactions are made possible courtesy of the many interactive features that these social networking sites provide (Boyd, 2007). For instance, users can send instant messages to their friends, they can exchange pleasantries through the live chats as long as they are within reliable internet connection, they can even place free video calls to their friends, they can create interest groups with much ease, they can post anything that is of interest on their walls and on their friend’s walls too, they can comment on their friends posts, and they can also tag themselves on their friends photographs (Boyd, 2006a). As Ogbomo and Ogbomo (2008) as well as Boyd (2007) posit, these and many more other highly interactive features have helped to create highly intertwined networks nodes that penetrate all the corners of the world. The main reason why these social networking sites have penetrated the world is due to their ability to create a friendly environment that allows for quality interaction for those who share common interests to take place (Cohen, 2003).
A site like Facebook, for instance, gained popularity because it initially targeted Harvard University students who through a word of mouth spread its fame among fellow students. Though it has since ventured into the mainstream public domain, the site still provides opportunities for users to form and recruit members for specific interest groups (Cassidy, 2006). The underlying idea behind these special interest groups is that users will feel attracted to join groups that support interests and activities they feel attracted to (Boyd, 2006a). Again, users will feel obligated to add friends who espouse similar social interests and/or body features such as blood groups or even chest size. These groups can be referred to as network nodes and their continued growth is responsible for the sprouting up of weird lifestyles such as homosexuality (Boyd, 2007).
In addition and depending on the strengths of these network nodes as well as depending on how prohibited a lifestyle is, sometimes members of a social site group may arrange for a physical meeting where they converge to explore more about each other and how they can discreetly continue championing for their unique lifestyles (Cassidy, 2006). This is true given that the social media fills the information gap created by the apparent lack of audience for social behaviors such as homosexuality which are considered by the society as illegal or even a taboo (Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2006).
According to Boyd and Ellison (2006), one of the major features that have increased the popularity of social networking sites is the fact they are built around people interests. Boyd and Ellison also clarifies that these sites are built with the main intention of enhancing the growth of networks. This postulation echoes Castells (1997) words that the contemporary society has transcended into a network society, and that entities should struggle to become part of these dense network nodes, join efforts to build communes, and most importantly, build new identities. By hooking up persons who share common interests and/or activities, these social networking sites help to create the initial nodes of a network which users should exploit in the form of meeting new friends. Apparently, this happens when users continue meeting friends-of-their friends as well as other people who shares common interests. Ultimately, the network nodes continue to grow in number and scope as new users are determined to find other users with attractive profiles as well as those who belong to their friends-of-friends networks (Boyd, 2006a).
From a different standpoint, it is arguable that social networking through the virtual media has negatively impacted on the concept of socialization. Today, people are spending more and more of their free and even working hours on social networking sites than chatting face-to-face with friends and family. As a matter of fact, persons with extensive network of physical friends have been found to experience the feelings of being “lonely” when they go for say, a day without logging-into one of their many social networking sites accounts. Evidence shows that majority of young adults are members of at least two or more social networking sites, with Facebook being the Twitter being the most popular (Boyd, 2007). This perceived sense of loneliness is usually created by the creation of a great feeling of being linked to other members of the virtual world, such that when one does not access the internet regularly (several times in a day) they develop the feeling that something is amiss with them (Cornblatt, 2009). Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) caution that this feeling is false as it is borne of the perceived sense of connectedness that comes by being a subscriber to a social networking site. As a matter of fact, the authors points out that when it comes to socialization, it is not the amount of friends (quantity) one has but the value (quality) of socialization one derives them. A study carried out by researchers from Duke University showed that in the US, a country that has a population of more than 300 million people, records of those expressing loneliness have over the years continued to soar. The study found that this perceived loneliness sometimes happens even when one is in the company of physical friends and family. As a matter of fact, the study clarified that there is no connection between staying alone and being lonely as people living in collectivist communities may record high levels of loneliness than those living in individualist communities (Cornblatt, 2009).
Arguably, the new media (social networking sites) has brought a new sense of identity. This postulation draws its impetus from the identity theory as advanced by Castells (1997). Castells posits that two critical phenomena, “the information technology revolution, and the restructuring of capitalism” have brought about a “new form of society, the network society” (p.1). From this overarching opinion, it is arguable that anyone who is not inside this network society may be considered or may perceive themselves as being lonely. As a matter of fact as and as Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) posit, this form of loneliness can be interpreted as not being isolated from physical friends and family but the sum total of the difference between what can be described as quality social interactions and the actual interaction one is getting. The level of loneliness therefore differs from a person to another. Even so, homosexuals can be said to be lonelier than heterosexuals as they are forced to live in denial and rejection from their friends and family. Consequently, they are more likely to spend lengthy time in social networking sites which according to researchers at Duke University offer them a false sense of connection. Nevertheless, this false sense of connection is far better to them than facing outright denial and rejection from their friends and family (Cornblatt, 2009).
Moreover and as Castells (1997) posits, joining the network society is not a matter of choice, it is a necessity especially for those seeking a new identity. Marginalized and stigmatized groups such as homosexuals need to consider “reincarnating” themselves as part of concerted efforts to agitate for social acceptance. Part of this reincarnation process entails joining the network society which Castells considers vibrant, discreet, and indiscriminative. As a matter fact, Castells argues that unlike the traditional society, the network society has many incentives. He offers that this new society manifests in the,
…, globalization of strategically decisive economic activities …, networking form of organization, …, the flexibility and instability of work, and the individualization of labor, …, culture of real virtuality constructed by a passive, interconnected, and diversified media system, …, [and] in the transformation of the material foundations of life, space and time, through the construction of a space of flows and of timeless time, as expressions of dominant activities and controlling elites” (p.1).
The network society creates a new identity for homosexuals. In their co-authored book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) agree that sometimes loneliness helps to build a new identity capable of enhancing the sense of security around oneself. This is because when people feel lonely, they tend to instinctively come up with an adaptive mechanism to compensate for the negative feelings. Cacioppo and Patrick (2008) argue that when lonely, an individual’s mind works overboard to suppress the feelings, such as opting to eat with a friend at the nearby fast food outlet than cooking at home. This strategy may result in the forging of new relationships to compensate for the severed ones. Consequently, these new relationships may lead to the creation of new identities based on the shared interests between and/or among the members forming the new group. Castells (1997) supports this argument by agreeing that even with the gains made in the realms of globalization, capitalism, and technological revolution, there has been a growing “surge of powerful expressions of collective identity that challenge globalization and cosmopolitanism on behalf of cultural singularity and people’s control over their lives and environment” (p.2). In a nutshell, Castells (1997) and Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) are convinced that though sometimes loneliness brings about self-destruction, it also leads to search for a new identity. As a result of social stigma, homosexuals have been known to seek refuge from social networking sites where they not only find persons with whom they can share their feelings with, but where they can also meet potential partners (Boyd, 2007).
From Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) point of view, this surge to establish a firm control over a people’s lives and environment is part of the conscious efforts made by the mind to compensate for being lonely. This is because as opposed to the popular notion that material wealth has the biggest impact in making a human being happy, evidence has shown that “trivial” things such as love, affection, and social acceptance account for the greatest impact in making one happy. People prefer intimacy and love than material wealth. Cocioppo and Patrick (2008) find that people who are isolated from the mainstream society through incarceration or even through outright denial are more likely to become lonely. From Castells (1997) discussion, it can be concluded that people who do not find acceptance from their immediate social setting lose their identity (become lonely).
According to Romm-Livermore and Setzekorn (2008) and Harris (2004) since those who initiate dating moves via online sites such as the Facebook are not branded ugly name tags or even turned down by their potential partners, then it can be argued that there exists a strong relationship between social networking via online sites and loneliness. Harris (2008) considers that these sites create a sense of belonging among their users. They encourage by way for offering support to users to formulate new identities, by making it possible for users to belong to special groupings as well as giving such groups an opportunity to champion its cause openly and freely. Even those who feel they have their own real world identities are enticed into adopting new identities by assigning them passive responsibilities in conspicuous groups (Mayer & Puller, 2008). For instance, one may be sent an invitation to attend a certain online event or to join a certain online group. Introverts are quickly turned into extroverts upon joining these online sites as they are bombarded with prompts such as buddy requests, group invitations, live chats, posts, photographs which they cannot afford to react to (Harris, 2008). As a matter of fact, introverts have been noted to change quickly when they join social networking sites as they are under self-inflicted pressure to compensate for their lack of physical friends (Mayer & Puller, 2008).
Moreover and as Fuss (1991) asserts, all sexual orientation (including heterosexuality) are in a constant fight to maintain their identity from “predatory encroachment” from the opposing orientation (p.2). Fuss says that for a sexual identity to maintain its niche it must go through a series of constant defense experiences, “social conflicts, historical pressures, and cultural prohibitions” (p.2). In Mainland China where homosexuality is a taboo, those who subscribe to this lifestyle should therefore stand firm and champion for their cause. Nevertheless the question is how do they get to fight for their identity when the society and the government are not willing to give them an audience? Should they organize a revolution and/or a series of public demonstrations across the country? It is wise to highlight that by holding demonstrations or taking part of any other form of picketing, homosexuals risk attracting public backlash and litigations for engaging in legally and morally incorrect practices. While drawing from Fuss (1991), it can be argued that homosexuality can only defeat the predatory encroachment of heterosexuality by challenging the differentiation of sex along the lines of a man and woman. To achieve this though, there is need to seek a discreet and robust media that will not only bring together gays and lesbians but that will help to create strong interpersonal ties among them. As Boyd (2006a) posits, it is only the social networking sites that have got the capacity to achieve this noble goal.
Castells (1997) considers that identity building is a continuous process. As a way of adaptation, people keep on changing their identities to suit their immediate environment. According to (Boyd, 2007), when they join social networking sites, persons tend to undergo a process of rapid change due to the excitement that’s comes with a new environment, new experiences, and new friends. For instance, it has been noted that people may easily divulge secrets in online sites that they could not have divulged in physical interactions. This is because as studies show, the levels of self-disclosure tend to reduce when people are communicating via online media. Moreover, studies show that people tend to quickly trust others when talking to them via online sites, in extension, when chatting through chat houses hosted by online sites, people tend to quickly believe that others are telling the truth (Boyd & Ellison, 2007).
Based on Castells (1997) social identity can be broken down into three basic categories. The first category is the legitimizing identity which involves the dominant societal institutions who exert their dominance on lesser dominant societal players. The second category is the resistance identity which involves persons occupying socially stigmatized positions due to the virtue of their dominance. This identity normally leads to the development of communes. The last category of identity is the project identity which manifests in the form of the building up of a new identity based on the readily available cultural materials. Ideally, the stigma towards homosexuals strips them of their identity as members of the society they live in. As such therefore and so as to become part and parcel of the network society that Castells talks about, they need to form an identity that suits their lifestyle. In this case, resistance identity is the most appropriate for them given the social stigma they face. This resistance identity will enable them to become members of a socially recognized commune. However, given that homosexuality is a prohibited lifestyle in China it will be very hard for them to publicly join an activist grouping. This therefore narrows down to social networking sites that Boyd (2007) and Cassidy (2006) considers as being vibrant in enhancing interaction even among marginalized groups such as the gays and lesbians communities.
In a nutshell it is arguable that like other social groupings, homosexuals need to undergo intensive social mobilization. They need to develop a code of communication so as to enhance their chances of occupying a high position in the network-mediated society. This is because as Castells (1997) posits, irrespective of the social standing, all social groups should mobilize from within and beyond, and most importantly, network and adopt the characteristics of a network so as to succeed in securing a place in the network society. Such mobilizing is not only essential in creating denser network nodes but it also helps in the acquisition of strategic capacities that may be utilized to enhance synergy. Apparently, in order to achieve synergy groupings are required to become part of the virtualized medium so as to share information with ease. In addition, social groupings need to acquire the prerequisite knowledge and skills to juggle their way through the network-mediated society otherwise they will not enjoy the constant flow of information through the nodes. As Castells holds, if a grouping is in constant receipt of information, then it will enhance its chances of developing the network society identity.
Conventional wisdom shows that people develop a liking for homosexuality the same way they develop a liking for other lifestyles. For instance, it is arguable that one will entertain homosexual feelings after getting an informative lecture from a friend or even after watching a homosexual documentary. Apparently, this is the same way people embraces popular lifestyles such as sport disciplines. For instance, one may develop a liking for soccer after watching a captivating match where the local team emerges the winner. Even so, Herek (2002) clarifies that there is no existing evidence showing how a liking for homosexual or even any other popular lifestyle are developed. At the same time, the author posits that people are not born gay or lesbian but they pick these lifestyles during their normal socialization endeavors. Ballard and Morris (1998) agree that though no one knows how a liking for homosexual is nurtured, it is clear that there a number of agents that help persons nurture homosexual attitudes. Some of these agents include the church, media, school, peers, and family.
Nevertheless, in what can be interpreted as support for the roles media plays in enhancing homosexual attitudes, Boyd (2008) agree that due to the sensitivity of the matter in many societies (China included), the media plays the salient role, with other agents playing peripheral roles. As a matter of fact, the new media manifested in the popular social networking sites plays a central role in enhancing the growth in number of those professing homosexual attitudes. This postulation draws its impetus from the notions that these sites provide a discreet way of sharing intimate information among users (Boyd, 2006a). Moreover, Gross and Acquisti (2005) posits new media plays a central role in enhancing homosexual attitudes as it is very hard for face-to-face discussions with peers, parents, church ministers, schoolmates to yield any useful information. Using the example of the US, a country whose some states have legalized homosexuality yet as many as 40 percent of Americans claim they have not come face-to-face with a gay or lesbian person and that they only read about them from the media (Pew Research Center, 2003), it is arguable that even in China, new media provides the most appropriate forum for homosexuals to date and share their feelings.
New media has a very huge impact on the enhancement of unique lifestyles such as homosexuality. In their study to investigate the impact of prolonged viewing of violent programs on TV, Gerbner and Gross (1976) posit that watching of violent programs may lead to the development of violent attitudes among American youth. The authors found that the magnitude of these impacts is usually determined by how frequent people access the media and most importantly, how people view their surrounding after prolonged exposure to the popular media. To this effect, it can be deduced that popular media such as social networking sites usually create closely-knit communities and proceeds to socialize their users along specific lifestyles (Cassidy, 2006).
Like religion which for a long time has been considered as the greatest agent of socialization, Gerbner and Gross (1976) who also invoke the cultivation theory agrees that popular media has far reaching impacts on the social welfare of their users. As a matter of fact, the cultivation theory which has also been advanced by Gerbner et al (1986) can be utilized to explain why new media enhances the growth of homosexual attitudes. According to Gerbner and his colleagues, the cumulative impacts of interactive experiences through the popular media, say, watching a popular TV program or even subscribing to a popular social networking site, people tend to cultivate a new way of understanding their surroundings. Gerbner et al (2002) also strengthens this early finding by holding that our current lifestyles are products of the conscious knowledge we pick from the popular media. To this end, it is wise to argue that persons who experience prolonged exposure to homosexual literature through social networking sites may cultivate a liking on homosexuality lifestyle. Basing on reliable evidence from Ward (2002) that people rely on the media to learn more about their sexuality, it is only wise to point out that social networking sites play a central role in spreading homosexuality literature in Mainland China.
The interplay between virtual and real world communication has impacted heavily on the development of interpersonal relationships. According to Gross and Acquisti (2005), this interplay has in extension influenced the dating habits among the youth who happen to form the largest portion of social networking sites subscribers. Dating among members of the young generation has been made easy as one can easily “meet” and date distance friends while still enjoying the comfort of their homes. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and the newly launched Netlog as well as a host of other sites offer real-time opportunities for persons to become intimate with each other through an easy process that involves sending out a buddy request, confirming the request, sharing pleasantries, exchanging photographs, and ultimately arranging a physical meeting. If they develop a true liking of each other such friends can enter into a serious relationship after the first and/or subsequent meetings (Mayer & Puller, 2008).
In a nutshell, it can be concluded that with the emergence of these social networking sites and with the growing public backlash on homosexuality in Mainland China, there is a likelihood of two scenarios to occur among the gay and lesbian community living in Mainland China. The first scenario is that due to the fear of attracting public backlash homosexuals are more likely to rely on the virtual space to access critical information regarding their lifestyle, to share with others, and most importantly, to look for partners. The second scenario is that they are more likely to only live in their own “circle” and only communicate with people in their “circle”. The resultant situation is that they will help spread the nodes of their network across the country, they will become more informed about critical matters touching on their lifestyle, and most importantly, they will mitigate the risk of attracting public backlash as they will become more invisible, at least from a real world standpoint. As such therefore and since their communications are based on the virtual space, it may be wondered if this uncensored, discreet communication leads to any meaningful change in their real-world lifestyles. For instance, one may ask if there are traces of cultural transmission among homosexuals in Mainland China and most importantly, if such traces (if any) have been occasioned by social networking sites.
China has a long history of seeing homosexuality as being abnormal and immoral. As a matter of fact, lead quiet lives for fear of attracting public backlash as any attempts of going public with their sexual orientation are treated with contempt and sometimes may result in persons being expelled from their families (Brook, 1998). Even those who have positively accepted their sexual orientation continue to find it very hard to lead smooth lives as they are deprived of the opportunity to access critical information that may help them identify their colleagues or even establish appropriate methods of living positively (Szonyi, 1998). This is because they cannot freely share their feelings in public places as to how they expect to be treated by heterosexuals. For instance, there is no audience where they can access information on how best to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. This is because there have been conscious efforts on the part of the government to censor literary materials such as films and websites that promote homosexuality themes. As a matter of fact, censoring films that portray homosexual messages has greatly affected the gay community interaction and dating habits in Mainland China given that it is known that information touching on sexuality matters is better shared through the media rather than through face-to-face encounters as most communities still regard the open discussion of sexuality matters as a taboo (Ward, 2002).
All matters related with homosexuality are given a complete blackout in all public places in China. There are no visible homosexual activist groups to help make the government recognize the rights of this minority group of the society – the government continues to pretend that there are no homosexuals in the country (Ching, 2009). Even with the opening up of homosexuals’ leisure outlets such as bars in big Chinese cities, the plight of homosexuals has not been addressed well in the country. This is because majority of lesbians and gays may not be aware of the existence of these places or may fear to frequent these places for fear of attracting public backlash in the event any of their family members spotted them in such places. These conscious repressive efforts have greatly dented the successful communication and interaction between homosexuals in the country (Kang, 2009). Existing as well as would-be homosexuals are sometimes forced to live in abusive heterosexual relationships as they cannot identify potential homosexual partners.
Even so, it is imperative to highlight that there has always been alternative ways of communication among homosexuals in the country. Homosexuals, especially those who are technologically savvy have resorted to utilizing discreet avenues to vent their feelings. As a matter of fact, the emergency of new media such as internet and mobile phone applications has helped gay and lesbians to move their public space from the real world to the virtual world. As it has been explained earlier on, the real world has posed a lot of hurdles to homosexual communication and dating habits. As such therefore, the virtual world which is by far discreet and efficient provides the best option. Though there are no existing studies showing the number of homosexuals using social sites to date, trends shows that there has been a rapid growth of homosexuality communities in online sites. This can be interpreted to mean that the internet has provided an alternative avenue through which homosexuals can easily find partners and share their feelings. In this case and according to McLeiland (2000), the internet has become a tool that informs homosexuals about existing places where they can find partners as well as new places where homosexuals can meet without drawing much public attention. In a nutshell, the social networking sites have increased the communication and dating power among homosexuals as they make them more visible within the invisible world.
Even so, it is prudent to note that the use of the new media in China has not been all easy. The Chinese government under the Communist Party regime employs stringent media censorship policies as part of its strategies to keep its unique socio-political and cultural fabric away from the influence of the popular western culture (Biagi, 2011). When compared to western countries such as the United States where some states have legalized homosexuality, China scores very badly in terms allowing its citizens to access materials via the internet. Moreover, in some parts of the United States, homosexuality as a lifestyle is freely discussed in the public domain unlike in China where the subject cannot be broached in public places as it is still very controversial (Zhao, 1998). In addition, unlike in the United States where there is complete freedom of expression, the Chinese government has banned media applications that promote homosexuality (Biagi, 2011).
From a different perspective it is arguable that even with the influx of social networking sites; the number of homosexuals who use this service is limited. Being a new media, communication through social networking sites is limited to those who understand and are able to access internet services (Lin & Huang, 2011). It is wise to assert that for one to be in a position to utilize this new communication method, they must be able to read and understand English which is by far the most popular language in the world. Again, it is only those who can access and retrieve information from computers and mobile phones that can benefit from information posted in the social sites. In china, quite a number of the citizens do not know how to read and understand English language, with another significant portion of the population being computers illiterate (Lin & Huang, 2011). From a different position, a significant number of Chinese citizens live in abject poverty – they cannot afford to buy basic commodities such as mobile phones nor can they access information disseminated through computers (Wu et al, 2010). These three groups: illiterate, computer illiterate, and the poor are at a disadvantage as they cannot enjoy the services offered by the virtual media in the same way as their well-educated, computer literate, and relatively well-off colleagues.
This chapter explains the methods and processes that the researcher used when choosing participants as well as collecting and analyzing data. The core subsections covered by the chapter include research design, sampling technique, research instrument, data gathering procedure and statistical treatment of data. As Creswell (2003) posits, these key subsections have been arranged in a successive manner so as to help in easy interpretation. The chapter also provides a subsection that addresses ethical assurances as well as the limitations experienced in the process of sampling, collecting and analyzing of data.
An investigation on how new media impact dating habits among homosexuals in China falls in the realm of social science as it seeks to determine how modern ways of communication has impacted on the social lives of a certain group. As such therefore, it is wise to choose a compatible research design that is capable of establishing the “how” and “why” of the social phenomena (the impact of new media on homosexuals dating habits). The two most common research designs are qualitative and quantitative approaches. Qualitative research is basically a descriptive approach unlike quantitative approach which is numerical in form. Qualitative approach entails the use of open-ended data collection instruments while quantitative research entails the use of closed-ended and highly structured data collection instruments. This study will utilize a descriptive qualitative design.
The rationale behind the selection of this design is advised by Creswell (2003) opinion that qualitative design is the most suitable for topics falling in the social sciences realm. Moreover and as Mason (1996) posits, a qualitative design allows for the making of critical decisions based on the research strategy as well as on the unique situations inherent on the study topic and/or the study population. A qualitative design will be the most suitable for the study given that it will provide social explanations for each of the set research questions. Furthermore and as Merriam (2009) posits, a qualitative research will provide explanations on the motivation underlying human behavior.
Ideally, qualitative research is broad. It has a number of other topic-oriented approaches that researchers may utilize to suit their specific needs. In this category, descriptive and explorative are the most common. This study will utilize a descriptive qualitative research design. According to Cooper and Shindler (2003), a descriptive approach entails the purposive description of the key processes of sampling, data collection, data analysis, and data interpretation as guided by past, present and the future of a social phenomenon. Technically, the main difference between descriptive and exploratory research is that descriptive research is more intensive and inflexible than exploratory research.
As a matter of fact, descriptive research will be the most appropriate for this study given that it will help to offer accurate descriptions about how homosexuals utilize new media such as social networking sites in their dating endeavours. As Kothari (2005) posits, a descriptive study will help to describe how homosexuals utilize SNS, estimate the number of homosexuals using social networking sites, and most importantly predict the futu.............
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