Public intimacy in social media: The mass audience as a third party

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This study presents a novel analysis of social network sites as a staged performance of interpersonal ties in front of a third party, here defined as public intimacy. This concept moves away from the current focus on the presentation of self in social media to the performance of relationships. Users of social media are compared to an interactive audience in a round theater. As inner circle network members display their exclusive ties in front of ther users they may also tease them into joining the conversation. Building on studies of Simmelian ties, interactive exchange, and phatic communication the study presents six characteristics of public intimacy along with brief examples drawn from users’ experiences on Facebook and Twitter. It is concluded that by mediating the shift from dyad to triad and from triad to mass community social media do not necessarily entail a reduction in intimacy but rather a concretization of social relations. The recursive relationship between interpersonal ties and mass solidarity is sustained and reaffirmed thanks to triadic interactions of public intimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-612
Number of pages18
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • Facebook
  • audience
  • friendship
  • intimacy
  • performance
  • sociability
  • social media
  • triad


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