A Comparative Analysis of Social Networking Site Use in Two Distinct Cultures: Evaluating the IT-Culture Conflict
Gina Harden*, Alaa Al Beayeyz*
University of North Texas, USA
- Corresponding Author:
- Gina Harden
Alaa Al Beayeyz
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The popularity of social networking sites (SNSs) continues to grow worldwide, however, with varying acceptance in different regions. This study examines the effects of both culture and gender on the intention to use an SNS. The study compares users from Saudi Arabia, a culture known to be driven by conservative religious values known to influence acceptance and use of new technologies to students from the United States (US), a culture which has been recognized as being more individualistic in behavior. An online survey was used to collect data from both Saudi and US Facebook users. The interaction of gender and culture was found to have an impact on the determinants of intention to use. The strongest effect was found with Saudi females and the beliefs regarding self-presentation through the use of personal images.
Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have
become commonplace in today’s Internet world. Users around the world can access
these free services to “stay connected online with their offline friends and new online
acquaintances, or to share user-created content” (Kim, et al., 2009). However, one
observed phenomenon is the way in which these SNSs grow in some areas more
than others. “Orkut and Friendster originated in the US, but have been overshadowed by other sites and instead enjoy popularity elsewhere” (Kim, et al.,
This varying acceptance in different regions leads to research questions such
as: What motivates use of a specific SNS in various regions of the world? Is culture
involved in determining which SNS thrives and which one doesn’t? Can an SNS
increase its usability through customization to fit diverse cultures? This study
attempts to answer these questions by studying the use of Facebook in Saudi
Arabia, a culture known to be driven by conservative religious values that have been
shown to influence acceptance and use of new technologies. Facebook currently
boasts over 3.2 million users in Saudi Arabia since it launched its interface in Arabic
in March 2009, and over 800 million worldwide (Facebook Press Release, CITC
2010). An identical, comparative study was also conducted in the United States
(US), a culture which has been recognized as being more individualistic in behavior
and therefore less likely to accede to cultural pressure. The study examines the
perceptions of Facebook users from both nations to determine what differences may
exist in the effect of the two distinct cultures on SNS adoption and use.
It has been suggested that “the need to uphold the tenets of Islam was
probably responsible for the delay (until January 1999) in allowing public access
through the PC to the enormous potential of the internet within Saudi Arabia” (Al-
Khaldi & Wallace, 1999). The banning of mobile phones with cameras in 2004 is an
illustration of how the Saudi culture “evaluates” and reacts to new technology and its
use. “Saudi Arabia has taken the drastic step of banning the import or sale of camera
cell phones and declaring them religiously forbidden” (Shihri, 2004). A year later this
ban was lifted. However, the use of cell phones with cameras is still controlled in any
female gathering, indicating that gender will likely have an effect on SNS use in that
A significant number of studies on SNS use have been carried out in the US
(Lin & Bhattacherjee, 2010; Lin, et al., 2005; Shi et al., 2010; Sledgianowski &
Kulviwat, 2009), but there are relatively few studies that have been completed in
Saudi Arabia (Al-Saggaf, 2011). This paper will attempt to fill this gap in the literature
by examining the impact of gender on both Saudi and US users’ intentions to use an
SNS. We begin by reviewing the literature concerned with culture and adoption of
information technology in a diverse culture such as Saudi Arabia. Next we propose a
model of SNS adoption based on a synthesis of the theory of reasoned action (TRA) and the IT-culture conflict, and describe the methodology employed in the study.
Finally, we discuss the analysis of the data, and conclude with a discussion of the
results and implications for both literature and practitioners.
Background and Literature Review
The concept of culture and its relation to IT use in both the US and Saudi
Arabia can be illustrated by the review of culture in information systems (IS) research
(Leidner & Kayworth, 2006). This review found numerous studies that have
attempted to explain the relationship between IT and culture at several levels. The
importance of noting the difference in cultural dimensions stems from the fact that
culture will influence the design of any information technology system.
In a study conducted in the Arab world the authors stated that “as most
technology is designed and produced in developed countries, it is culturally-biased in
favor of those developed countries” (Hill, Loch, Straub, & El-Sheshai, 1998).
Therefore, the cultural bias in an information system originates from the differences
of cultural dimensions between the designers of that system and any adopters. It is
noted in a comparison of values between Arab countries and the United States of
America that “Arab cultural values and norms are formed based on Islamic religious
beliefs as well as other cultural factors such as the more collectivistic (Hofstede
1980) and high-context (Hall 1976) nature of Arabic culture. The American value
system, on the other hand, is based predominantly on Christian beliefs (Protestant
and Catholic), and is more individualistic (Hofstede 1980) and low-context (Hall
1976)” (Al-Olayan & Karande, 2000). This contrast between these two nationalities
helps to develop an understanding of the cultural differences that exist which can
influence the adoption and use of information systems.
Other culture and IT interaction studies examine the effect of culture on
transfer of IT (Hill, Loch, Straub, & El-Sheshai, 1998, Al-Gahtani, 2008). One study
suggests that a person’s willingness to be innovative with IT is significantly affected
by culture (Thatcher, et al., 2003). Culture in this study was defined as a subset of
the cultural national values previously defined by Hofstede (1980). From this
research we can conclude that national culture has a significant effect on how IT is
transferred, diffused, adopted and used.
The current research examines Facebook, currently one of the most popular
SNSs. An SNS can be defined as “web based services that allow individuals to (1)
construct a public or semipublic profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list
of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list
of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
or more simply “social networking sites are web sites that allow people to stay
connected with other people in online communities” (Kim, et al., 2009).
In a study on the usage of SNSs, Sledgianowski & Kulviwat (2009) found that
perceived playfulness, critical mass and trust were significant predictors of SNS use.
A prior study compared users and non-users of SNSs on the concepts of social
grooming and self-presentation and found the main factors that influenced SNS were
“attitudes towards social grooming and privacy concerns” (Tufekci, 2008). These
studies highlight the importance of investigating behaviors that are associated with
the adoption and use of SNSs. The next step is to clearly identify which of these
factors can be generalized across cultures and which are culture-specific.
An issue of relevance to the study of SNS adoption in Saudi Arabia is the
current rate of Internet penetration in Saudi homes. In 2007, the Saudi
Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) conducted a study
evaluating Internet usage in Saudi Arabia and found PC penetration in homes to be
43% across the entire population with 73% owned by those 15-25 years of age. A
recent study reported that Internet user penetration in Saudi Arabia is 41% and
younger users being the majority of Internet users (CITC, 2010). The study also
found that the younger generation was more interested in “participating in forums
and blogs, while the older respondents carry out banking activities and derive
information on health services, etc.” This study provides clear evidence that the
Internet has a significant presence in Saudi Arabia.
Culture can also have an impact on the ways in which gender affects the use
of IT. In 2007, the CITC (2007) reported one barrier to using the internet in Saudi
Arabia was “not allowed by family,” reported by 10-15% of females and youngsters
(15-24 years of age). More recently, the CITC published an updated report regarding
inhibitors use and family restriction was found to be 12% (CITC 2010). This point
illustrates how Saudi culture can control the use of IT through regulating access to
the Internet, specifically for females. Until 2004 female students were not granted Internet access from public university labs. This phenomenon was investigated in a
quantitative study (Uthman, 2009) that measured and compared factors affecting the
use of the Internet specifically by Arab females. The study was conducted on both
Egyptian and Saudi female college students to identify usage of the Internet.
Saudi females identified the perceived bad reputation of Internet users as one
of the major problems of using this technology, whereas Egyptian females did not
(Uthman, 2009). In the case of Saudi culture, which is fully grounded in Islamic
religion, it is essential to note that religion “influences Arab values with regard to
issues such as business conduct (e.g., the appropriateness of business practices) as
well as personal conduct (e.g., relationships with others and the role of women)” (Al-
Olayan & Karande, 2000).
Research on the effect of gender in the adoption and use of information
systems has been conflicting, with some studies finding that gender has a significant
effect on adoption and use (Johnson 2010; Venkatesh, et al., 2003), while others did
not (Al-Gahtani, 2008; Baker, Al-Gahtani, & Hubona, 2007; Glass & Li, 2010).
However, it is important to note that most of these studies were done in utilitarian
contexts, both in western studies and Arab culture-IT studies. The current study is
focused on the hedonic context of an SNS.
Social psychology literature has shown the importance of gender roles in
examining behavior based on gender (Eagly, and Karau, 1991). Gender role theory
proposes that females are more concerned with the socially oriented aspects of
communication. Research has found that women are more concerned than men with
creating and maintaining relationships (Johnson, 2010). The interactive and shared
social context of SNSs provides a greater opportunity for females to foster their
penchant for communication and relationship maintenance. As the current study is
also investigating the effect of culture, it is thought that the intention to use as SNS
will be significantly different among male and female users in both the US and Saudi
Arabia. The current study evaluates the effect of gender and culture as interaction
variables, with nationality considered to be a direct indicator of culture as proposed
by Hofstede’s (1980) cultural dimensions.
Conceptual Model and Hypotheses
Behavioral Intention – Intention to Use and Self-Presentation Beliefs
The proposed research model is based on the Theory of Reasoned Action
(TRA) originally proposed by Ajzen & Fishbein (1973) in social psychology. TRA
posits that behavioral intentions are influenced by both attitudes and social norms. In
the context of the current study, behavioral intention is examined in the context of the
intention to use an SNS. In the two distinct cultures being investigated in this study, it
is expected that both culture and gender will have a significant interaction effect on
the intention to use an SNS.
Because using an SNS involves the controversial function of sharing personal
photos, it is expected that particular behavior should be investigated separately
through the concept of self-presentation (Tufecki, 2008). Self-presentation refers to
the public image one projects to others. Photos shared on Facebook are just one
method of shaping that image. However, there are numerous media reports of
employees who were fired or students who were dismissed or otherwise punished
for violating school policies as a result of posting their pictures on Facebook
(Marketwire, 2009; Roberts, 2009). Additionally, religious values in Saudi Arabia
restrict the images of women taken with cell phones (Shihri, 2004). Therefore, it is
expected that self-presentation beliefs, or the sharing of personal photos, will also be
significantly affected by the interaction of both culture and gender.
Attitude toward Behavior
As mentioned above, attitude toward behavior stems from an individual’s
feelings (either positive or negative) regarding erngaging in a specific behavior.
Attitude toward behavior is defined as the user’s evaluation of the desirability of his
or her using the SNS. It also takes into account a person’s belief regarding the
related consequences occuring from that specific behavior. Attitude toward the
behavioral intention of using an SNS has been included in some studies of
technology acceptance and dropped in others (Davis, 1989; Venkatesh & Davis,
2000). However, there has been some interest recently in adding the concept once
again to help improve the explanatory power of usage studies (Benbasat & Barki,
Considering the current study is investigating the intention to use an SNS in
two distinct cultures, it is expected that attitude will have a significant effect on the
behavioral intention to use an SNS. Therefore, the following hypotheses are
H1: Attitude will have a positive relationship with a user’s intention to use the
H2: Attitude will have a positive relationship with self-presentation beliefs.
IS research has subsequently evaluated other factors that affect behavior
intentions toward using technology, including perceived enjoyment. The research
initiated by van der Heijden (2004) investigated user acceptance of hedonic systems,
finding that predictors vary depending on the context in which the system is used,
being either utilitarian or hedonic. When investigating hedonic system usage of an
SNS, adoption is likely to be influenced by how much an individual enjoys using the
SNS and perceived enjoyment has been incorporated in a consistent manner in the
literature (Lin & Bhattacherjee, 2010; Lin, et al., 2005; Sledgianowski & Kulviwat,
In research of a hedonic system such as an SNS, Sledgianowski & Kulviwat
(2009) found that the intrinsic motivator of perceived playfulness or enjoyment one
finds by using the system had the strongest impact on intent to use. Therefore,
following the research of van der Heijden (2003) and Sledgianowski and Kulviwat
(2009), perceived enjoyment is defined as the level of pleasure a user of a SNS
believes using that site gives him/her. Therefore we propose the following
H3: Perceived enjoyment will have a positive relationship with intention to use
H4: Perceived enjoyment will have a positive relationship with selfpresentation.
Social norm stems from an individual’s perception of whether people
important to that person think the behavior should be performed and should also
include the weight of the motiviation to comply (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1973). What is
accepted and even expected by the community which the individual values is
therefore thought to have an impact on the individual’s opinions regarding the
behavior and thus, the likelihood of the individual to perform that specific behavior.
Expectations of others are especially significant in the context of an SNS because
they are an indication of the extent to which members in a society influence each other’s behavior and experience social pressure to perform in a particular manner
(Sledgianowski & Kulviwat, 2009).
Social norms have been added to various research models to improve the
explanatory power of technology acceptance and usage (Ajzen and Fishbein 1975;
Sledgianowski & Kulviwat, 2009; Venkatesh et al., 2003). For the purposes of this
study, social norm is defined as an individual’s perception of whether people
important to the individual think they should use Facebook. Therefore, we present
the following hypotheses:
H5: Social Norms will have a positive relationship with intention to use the
H6: Social Norms will have a positive relationship with self-presentation.
Figure 1. Proposed Research Model
The data for this study were collected in two phases. An online survey in
English was first administered to undergraduate students at a large university in the
southwestern United States. College students were deemed appropriate
respondents since Facebook, the focus of this study, was originally targeted towards
college students as a tool to stay connected. The survey was then translated into
Arabic, verified independently and distributed online to both Saudi students at an
American University and to Saudi Facebook groups. We received a total of 260
responses (131 US and 129 Saudi). Although some of the respondents were not
nationals of the US or Saudi Arabia, the percentage was considered to be
The survey consisted of previously validated scales that were adapted to the
context of this study where necessary in addition to a developmental scale for the
construct of self-presentation beliefs. Questions related to sharing personal photos
and using a personal photo as a profile picture were used to evaluate selfpresentation
beliefs. Seven-point Likert scales were used to measure the perception
items in the survey (from 1 – strongly agree to 7 – strongly disagree). Demographic
data were also collected from both groups and the descriptive statistics for our
samples are presented in Tables 1 and 2.
Table 1. United States descriptive statistics
Table 2. Saudi Arabia descriptive statistics
These statistics do not reveal any significant differences between US and
Saudi respondents in terms of measurements such as age, gender, or those with a
Facebook account. There are also similarities in how often respondents use their
account. Of interest in both groups are the numbers who report having a Facebook
account – 91% for the US and 98% for Saudi Arabia. Fully 80% of US respondents
reported using their account within the last 24 hours while 89% of Saudis reported
use in the last 24 hours. The two groups also had fairly similar average ages, with an
average age of 26 years in the US and 28 years in Saudi Arabia.
Assessment of the Measurement Model
The adequacy of the measurement instrument is determined by examining
both the reliability of the items and also through construct validity, which is
comprised of both convergent and discriminant validity (Gerbing & Anderson, 1998).
Reliability is most commonly measured by items having Cronbach’s alpha values of
.70 or higher (Nunnally, 1967). The Cronbach’s alpha values of the model’s
constructs were considered to be acceptable although the developmental construct
of self-presentation beliefs was .64. This value is considered marginal in terms of
acceptability, however for a developmental scale item, is considered acceptable for
exploratory analysis (Peterson, 1994).
Convergent and discriminant validities are determined through factor analysis
of the survey items. Convergent validity provides a measure of the variance shared
between a construct and its factors. It is demonstrated when items that measure the
same construct have high correlations and discriminant validity is shown when items
measuring different constructs do not have high correlations (Gefen and Straub,
Factor analysis was performed on the latent variables after reverse-coding the
necessary values and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and exploratory factor
analysis (EFA) (for the developmental construct) results endorsed the
unidimensionality of our variables. This strong construct validity supported
proceeding with the testing of the hypothesized relationships.
Assessment of Hypotheses
In order to assess the hypothesized relationships in the proposed model, we
preformed univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) on each of the dependent
constructs: intention to use and self-presentation beliefs. A recognized advantage of
conducting ANOVA is the ability to test the effects of interaction variables in this
study of gender and nationality.
An ANOVA was performed which tested attitude, perceived enjoyment, and
social norms as predictors of intention to use. The results confirm that hypotheses
H1, H3 and H5 are supported by the data with an R2 of 0.426 (p-value = 0.000). The
coefficients are displayed on the respective arrows on Figure 2. The interaction of gender and nationality is also confirmed at a .012 level of significance while gender
or nationality alone does not significantly impact the main effects of the constructs in
A separate ANOVA was performed to evaluate attitude, perceived enjoyment,
and social norms as predictors of self-presentation beliefs. The results confirm that
hypotheses H2 and H4 are supported by the data while H6 was found to be an
insignificant indicator of self-presentation beliefs (p-value = .586). Attitude, perceived
enjoyment and the interaction of gender and country significantly predict selfpresentation
beliefs with an R2
of 0.278 (p-value=0.000). A summary of the
hypotheses and their results are listed in Table 3.
Table 3. Summary of Hypotheses Results
Further analysis of the constructs using ANOVA Contrast results confirmed
that the only significant difference among the interaction of nationality and gender
was associated with self-presentation beliefs with an observed power of .99. Table 4 demonstrates the different confidence interval of the construct among the
respondents where the values were consistently lower for Saudi females.
Table 4. Contrast Test for Self Presentation Beliefs
Discussion, Limitations, and Future Directions
The goal of this study was to examine how intention to use an SNS and selfpresentation
beliefs are affected by attitude, perceived enjoyment, and social norm
and the interaction effects of both culture and gender. The study examined the
perceptions of SNS users in both Saudi Arabia and the US. The findings indicate that
there are no significant differences based on culture or gender regarding the
intention to use the SNS. However, a major finding was that the self-presentation
beliefs varied significantly between males and females in the two cultures. Not
surprisingly, female SNS users in Saudi Arabia were much less willing to engage in
self-presentation by posting their personal photos.
One finding that was surprising is that social norms is not significantly related
to the sharing of personal photos. However, attitude toward using the SNS had the
strongest effect on self-presentation beliefs. Additionally, perceived enjoyment also
had a positive effect on intention to use the SNS. The implications for research are
that social norms has a limited effect on the intention to use an SNS when the
attitude and enjoyment of using that SNS are already well established.
There were some limitations to the study that should be noted. First, the study
used only college students, which has received some criticism for the lack of
generalizability. However, as Facebook was originally intended for college students
and still retains a large demographic of college students, it was felt that their use was appropriate. Another limitation was the selection of only the US and Saudi Arabia as
the two cultures of study. This further reduces the generalizability of the findings, but
the study still offers a glimpse of potential issues for SNS developers when
implementing their platforms in foreign countries. A final limitation is the exclusion of
other factors that have been identified as significant predictors of SNS use, such as
privacy and trust. However, the inclusion of these factors was outside the scope of
this study and is suggested as a potential area for future studies.
The current study evaluated the intention to use an SNS in both the US and
Saudi Arabia. A major contribution of the findings is that the proposed model has
significance in both countries. The results extend the IS literature by providing
empirical evidence supporting the effect of attitude on intention to use an SNS. While
prior studies have removed this construct, this study shows the strength of attitude
when examining the use of social networking systems. Another significant finding is
the difference between the two cultures that exists regarding the self-presentation
beliefs. The results confirm the importance of considering cultural values and beliefs
when designing global information systems.
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