Your next Twitter war may cost you your relationship, researchers say.
People who actively use Twitter and argue with their romantic partners over Twitter use are more likely to have relationship problems with their significant others, which can result in cheating, break-up or divorce, according to a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
“Greater active Twitter use led to greater negative conflicts and outcomes,” said Russell Clayton, the study author and a doctoral student at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Clayton used an online survey of 581 Twitter users ages 18 to 67 for this study. The survey was distributed through Twitter accounts for Clayton and for The Huffington Post. The survey posed 20 questions to the users, which ranged from the level of Twitter use, to whether they had relationship conflicts as a result of Twitter, to whether they had physically or emotionally cheated on their partner with someone they connected with via Twitter.
Clayton only included participants in his analysis based on whether their partner had a Twitter account and whether they actively used Twitter, through tweeting, replies or direct messages. He found that those who actively used Twitter and frequently got into arguments with their significant others over their Twitter use tended to have more negative relationship outcomes.
Based on the participants’ answers, the study found that “Twitter … use can have damaging effects on romantic relationships,” according to the report.
Clayton acknowledged in the report that the study’s sample was limited to only those who use Twitter and who follow him or The Huffington Post on Twitter. He said participants also knew they were taking a survey on Twitter and relationships.
“What (the study) was demonstrating was that Twitter was associated with these outcomes, not that it was the causal link,” Clayton said.
The study built on a similar Facebook study Clayton conducted in 2013, which found that high levels of Facebook use led to conflict between romantic partners. The results between the two studies were similar except for one factor, Clayton found. The length of the relationship affected the link between Facebook use and relationship problems – meaning if the partners had been in a relationship for more than three years, they were less likely to be negatively affected by excessive Facebook use. In the Twitter study, however, Clayton found no such correlation.
“I really think any medium used too much or in hazardous ways can lead to these negative outcomes or conflicts,” Clayton said. “I think there’s enough reason to speculate that these conflicts can be true with any other social networking sites or media, maybe even television.”
Aaron Smith, a researcher at the Pew Research Center who specializes in Internet and mobile technologies, agreed that any excessive use of another technology or hobby could sow seeds of discontent in a relationship, but says it might not be unique to social network sites like Twitter or Facebook.
“Is the tech itself causing the bad outcomes or are those the tools by which those bad outcomes occur?” asked Smith.
The Pew Research Center conducted a study of more than 2,000 adults in February that examined couples and social media, and found that about 27% of couples say the Internet has had an impact on their relationships, but the majority of them said the impact has been positive. Only about 20% of those couples say the impact has been negative.
Some people view technology as a source of tension, Smith said, but others view it as a source of connection with others.
“I think if a relationship is strong, technology can be used to make it stronger,” said Nicole Ellison, a communication technologies researcher and professor at the University of Michigan. “If it’s weak, technology can be used in ways that will threaten it.”