Assessment · Social Media Communication

Intimate Publics on Social Media: Feeling blessed or #rekt

Social media is pervasive in this digital age. With the portability and convenience of the mobile phone, social media is everywhere we go and recording everything we do. However, in this social media sea with Facebook and Twitter, a sense of intimacy is available in this most public of networks, allowing individuals to be next to each other, yet physically apart.

Intimacy is defined primarily as a close connection with other individuals. It is through these connections that a world can be built, Berlant (1998) explains. She goes on to say that intimate spaces are produced through relationships, a collaborative space where “the inwardness of the intimate is met by a corresponding publicness.” Intimate publics are mediated through social media and the mobile phone, where the latter acts as both a “conduit for intimate relations and a repository for the user’s intimate gestures” (Hjorth & Kim, 2011).

BLOGIMAGE1Image 01: Infographic on major social media platforms.

As social media is widely used in the world today amongst people of all ages, backgrounds and professions, it is hard to imagine that intimacy can be achieved in such a public space with a large number of connections, or ‘friends’ online. Hinton & Hjorth (2013) further add to the definition, saying that it is not the quantity of the relationships, but the quality; the strength the user has with the other parties. These other parties are not just limited to family and friends; it also includes individuals with whom the user shares a connection at a social or cultural level (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013; Berlant, 1998), such as being from the same country or sharing a similar interest.

Intimate publics are a necessary part of everyday life, as users utilise this space on social media to maintain relationships with their families and friends abroad. Social media platforms break down the temporal and geographic barriers, allowing for a long-distance connection (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013; Hjorth & Lim, 2012) and ensuring a sense of intimacy online. In a way, it acts as an extension of face-to-face interaction (Young, 2011), strengthening and reaffirming the closeness between friends and family members. One example is the use of social and mobile media by Filipino women who work abroad, utilising its convenience and mobile nature to keep in contact with their loved ones back home and maintain a motherly relationship with their children (Madianou & Miller, 2011). It assuages their guilt from not being in close proximity to their family as mediums like Skype make it possible to see face-to-face in the online setting.

In addition to the maintenance of their strong connections, social networks also facilitate the formation of new relationships in the intimate public sphere due to its open nature. Lost family members are reunited through this media and are able to maintain this newfound connection on these platforms, allowing it to foster and strengthen. This is evident in the reunion of long-lost identical twins on Facebook, who were separated at birth and only discovered each other through the networking power of Facebook.

In a similar vein, Facebook’s controversial check-in function also helps to maintain the relationship in the intimate public sphere. Users who are caught in a natural disaster away from family and friends are able to alert them of their safety through this function. The convenience and instantaneous update of this feature allows intimacy to be mediated in this public space (Hjorth & Lim, 2012) as phone lines were known to be jammed when the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan occurred. In this example, many turned to social media to get in touch with family and friends in those areas (Hjorth & Kim, 2011).

IPBlogEssayImage 02: Facebook’s controversial check-in feature in times of disaster.

My work on Japanese pop culture this semester reflects the social and cultural aspect of intimate publics. Fans of anime and manga utilise online forums and social media sites to discuss and theorise on their favourite series, creating a social and cultural intimate public space. Users who contribute to this space form relationships due to their similar likes, and social media allows them to keep in contact with one another and “strengthen social ties” (Hjorth & Lim, 2012). Furthermore, this social and cultural intimate public allows fans in the same location to communicate regularly and strengthen their already strong offline bonds in the online sphere. Young (2011) also found that social media amplifies offline relationships and helps users feel closer to their friends.

As Japanese pop culture is spreading around the globe, following its activity on social media might give more insight into the social and cultural aspect of intimate publics as most individuals still associate intimate publics with an individual’s inner circle. One relatively unknown example is the Cosplayers page on Facebook, where many share photographs of themselves dressed up as their favourite character and others comment and bond over the costume or character. In addition to studying the breakdown of time and space barriers, an insight into the creation of cultural intimate publics on a global scale may consolidate this concept further.

COSPLAYImage 03: Cosplay community on Facebook, an example of social and cultural intimate publics.

While intimate publics are significant in the social media sphere, new studies suggest that this concept requires revision. Due to the ubiquitous nature of mobile and social media, Hjorth and Lim (2012) found that there is a blurred division of private and public, work and leisure, and offline and online personas precisely due to the breakdown of the time and space barriers—a presence bleed. Instead of going home after work to be with family and relax, workers bring their work home with them through their mobile phones, checking their emails during leisure time. Moreover, the question of privacy is more prevalent (Hjorth & Kim, 2011), as social media is a public space and completely visible, meaning once someone uploads information on it, it cannot be removed (Baym & boyd, 2012). Invasion of privacy is not a surprise as profile stalking, or ‘Facestalking’ (Young, 2011) remains to be a problem when operating on a public platform like Facebook. As profiles are free to view on major social media platforms, it is difficult to control who views one’s public sphere. This in turn causes the user to control their information more so as not to affect the intimate public they have created and the relationship between their inner intimate circle (Baym & boyd, 2012).

In contrast to the findings that intimate publics on social media strengthen relationships between friends and family, Mihailidis (2014) conducted a study which discovered the opposite effect. Mihailidis’s research (2011) found that children would rather separate their familial intimate public from that of other intimate publics on Facebook, feeling as though their parents are invading their space on Facebook. In a similar study, Madianou and Miller (2011) found that while social and mobile media allowed mothers to keep in touch with their children, the children felt that social media was a poor substitute “for the depth and quality of relationship you want” with their mother.

social-1449505474-Image 04: “Social media was a poor substitute ‘for the depth and quality of relationship you want’ with their mother.”

Mihailidis’ (2011) findings conclude that intimate publics do not strengthen the bond individuals have with each other; it creates distance between them. Due to the online nature of social media, individuals are gradually less inclined to meet in person, let alone venture into the offline space. In a way, the online intimate public spheres as well as social media have caused human interaction to plummet, eliminating any interest in the real life, offline sphere.  If this trend continues, it is possible that human face-to-face interaction may cause many of us to miss out on life itself, as this Youtube video titled “Look Up” delves into.

Intimate publics in the online sphere allow users to deepen their bonds with their family and friends. It breaks down the temporal and geographic barriers inhibiting everyday face-to-face interaction. However, for the same reason, it can also tear these bonds apart. The theoretical framework, while solid in definition, is lacking to reflect today’s digital age. However, despite its lack of depth and meaning, intimate publics on social media still play a vital role explaining the relationships between people in the public sphere.



Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially mediated publicness: an introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 320-329.

Berlant, L. (1998). Intimacy: A special issue. Critical Inquiry, 24(2), 281-288.

GeoBeats News. (2014, February 12). Separated Twins Find Each Other and Reunite Thanks to Social Media [Video file]. Retrieved from

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. Sage.

Hjorth, L., & Kim, K. H. Y. (2011). The Mourning After A Case Study of Social Media in the 3.11 Earthquake Disaster in Japan. Television & New Media, 12(6), 552-559.

Hjorth, L., & Lim, S. S. (2012). Mobile intimacy in an age of affective mobile media. Feminist Media Studies, 12(4), 477-484.

Leverage new age media. (2015). Social Media Comparison Infographic [Image]. Retrieved from

Madianou, M., & Miller, D. (2011). Mobile phone parenting: Reconfiguring relationships between Filipina migrant mothers and their left-behind children. New Media & Society, 13(3), 457-470.

Mihailidis, P. (2014). The civic-social media disconnect: exploring perceptions of social media for engagement in the daily life of college students. Information, Communication & Society, 17(9), 1059-1071.

Raheem, A. (2015). Does social media make relationships (friendships or family relationships) better? [Image]. Kashmir Observer. Retrieved from

Turk, G. (2014, April 25). Look Up [Video file]. Retrieved from

Young, K. (2011). Social ties, social networks and the Facebook experience. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 9(1), 20.



4 thoughts on “Intimate Publics on Social Media: Feeling blessed or #rekt

  1. Intimacy within social media is such a contradictory and interesting concept, as is the one of intimate publics. I agree with you that we’ll need to see more evidence and data of what intimate publics truly mean for relationships in the digital age and what happens in long term, although I’m personally inclined to see them as doing more harm than good when used in the excessive amount that we’re seeing today. The reality of ”Look Up” is heartbreaking.

    I feel that the case study of children wanting more quality out of their relationship with their mothers than what they get out of Facebook interaction is an important one. While polarised, it does illustrate that the bulk of true intimacy in our most valued relationships is lost in translation over social media. While I don’t personally have friends on my social media platforms that I don’t have real life relationships with, many do. How many chances of other would-be intimate relationships are we losing if we don’t allow them to develop outside of social media? As social beings who thrive on touch and connection, it’s a threatening thought in what feels like an increasingly unhappy world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. @yokristine93, there are some really great points in your blog! Indeed, new media technologies enable us new ways of communication, and we are all connected through social media nowadays. Social media allows us more instant and intimate communication with our family and friends. As a student who studies abroad, I feel social media plays extremely important role in my everyday life. Just like what you said, mediums like Skype and Facetime make it possible to see face-to-face in the online setting.
    Personally, I think intimacy is also the trends of media technologies. For example, we can now share heartbeats with friends through Apple Watch, which is probably the most intimate way we could communicate through media. It is interesting to know that how you relate the idea of intimate publics to your campaign. There are so many fan practices surround Japanese pop culture, and social media sites can be really important platforms for fans to communicate, interact and maintain their strong connections.
    As you mentioned, it is also a common belief that social media make us antisocial. It is true that we’ve being using social media apps like facebook and instagram all the time. I think it just become too easy for us to avoid direct communication, especially in public settings.
    Zhong 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Personally, it is a quite interesting discussion about public intimacy of social media with abundant pictures and videos. The author firstly defines the intimate publics then puts forward the examples of Filipino women, separated twins and Japanese fan clubs to support social media narrow the distance between the people and their friends, families and other people with similar hobbies. However, the author also argues that social media spread out the private space, disregard the privacy and build distance between family members and friends in real life. According to the lack of spaces, the author does not compare and contrast too much about the merits and demerits of social media but she claims at the end that intimate publics on social media own value to explore which I agree. Actually, due to the technologies of social media is constantly developing, the arguments about whether social media help to create “the global village” or oppositely break the intimacy of reality will keep amplifying as all kinds of new social media platforms and channels exploiting. For instance, it is easy to getting in touch with any other person on the world within 6 people under the help of social media, however, under the power of Fcebook, Twitter or Wechat, the growing huge groups of “otaku” and “Phubbing” shows another direction of it. Hence, in my opinion, the attitude of using the social media or being used by it is the point of how intimate publics trend in the future.


  4. Hi @yokristine93 you’ve written a really great article! From a solid theoretical base, this post highlights important points about how the definitions of intimate publics are in need of amendment given the changes brought about by the contemporary digital era. This dilemma surrounding the changing nature of human interaction reminds me of Georg Simmel’s work, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903). In the relatively early stages of the industrial revolution and the birth of large cities, Simmel reflected on the disparity between the close proximity of citizens, on public transport for example, and the isolation felt by individuals. This kind of dilemma bares resemblances to the emotional adjustment required of people that live their lives on and offline. Another complication I would add to this disjunct in relationships is around the self representation of online identities and self worth. The post correctly highlights the trend of strengthening online relationships rather than offline ones, however I believe it’s worth adding that people are at the same time trying to reconcile their identities online and offline.


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