The mediating role of conversation networks for influence and selection processes
Thomas Friemel, Nico PfiffnerThe relation between the use of cultural goods and social structures is subject to theoretical and empirical investigation since many decades. On the one hand, this includes the perspective that the use of cultural goods may serve to create or maintain social structures (Bourdieu, 1979; McPherson, Smith-Lovin & Cook, 2001). On the other hand, the social structures are assumed to facilitate or hinder diffusion processes (Lazarsfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944; Ryan und Gross, 1943). While a large part of the literature focuses on one of the two dynamics, more recent studies investigate influence and selection simultaneously. Hereby, empirical evidences are found for both, selection and influence processes regarding friendship (Lomi & Stadtfeld 2014; Steglich, Snijders, & West, 2006) and conversation ties (Friemel 2012; 2015). Our study extends this line of research in two ways. First, we study the use of YouTube channels which have become a primary subject of media use among adolescents. Second, we include interpersonal communication as a mediating network between friendship and media use. This results in a multi-level analysis of a friendship network, a conversation network, and a two-mode network of YouTube use. We assume to find selection and influence processes between friendship and YouTube related conversations as well as between these YouTube related conversations and YouTube use.
To investigate these assumptions, a panel survey consisting of three waves was conducted among students at a secondary school in Germany. Friendship and conversation networks of the entire grade level were collected and included 89 participants. With respect to YouTube use we included the 20 most popular YouTube channels among the participating adolescents.
Our analysis with RSiena confirm three of the four hypothesized influence and selection processes. Friendship ties have an influence on conversation ties (i.e., increase their likelihood) and conversation ties influence the use of YouTube channels. At the same time the selection of new friends was supported by YouTube related conversations. However, YouTube related conversations were not supported if two adolescents had preferences for the same channels. In combination these findings suggest that having a shared general interest (YouTube) supports friendship ties (mediated by YouTube related conversations) but do not require the discussants to use the same channels. Our model controls for the usual structural tendencies (dyadic and triadic structure), sex, and classroom membership. Furthermore, the assumed mediating role of the conversation network requires to control for direct effects between YouTube use and the friendship network. As mentioned above, we hereby assume not to find direct influence and selection processes. This assumption was supported (i.e., we found no effect between YouTube use and friendship). Hence, our findings suggest considering the conversation network as a mediating network between the dynamics of social structures (e.g., friendship) and the use of cultural goods (e.g., YouTube channels). Beside presenting our model we will discuss the implications of this finding for the interpretation of previous studies.