Assessing Structural Correlates to Social Capital in Facebook Ego Networks
Social Networks, Forthcoming
35 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2014
Date Written: 2014
Research in computer-mediated communication has consistently asserted that Facebook use is positively correlated with social capital. This research has drawn primarily on Williams’ (2006) bridging and bonding scales as well as behavioral attributes such as civic engagement. Yet, as social capital is inherently a structural construct, it is surprising that so little work has been done relating social capital to social structure as captured by social network site (SNS) Friendship networks. Facebook is particularly well-suited to support the examination of structure at the ego level since the networks articulated on Facebook tend to be large, dense, and indicative of many offline foci (e.g., coworkers, friends from high school). Assuming that each one of these foci only partially overlap, we initially present two hypotheses related to Facebook social networks and social capital: more foci are associated with perceptions of greater bridging social capital and more closure is associated with greater bonding social capital. Using a study of 235 employees at a Midwestern American university, we test these hypotheses alongside self-reported measures of activity on the site. Our results only partially confirm these hypotheses. In particular, using a widely used measure of closure (transitivity) we observe a strong and persistent negative relationship to bonding social capital. Although this finding is initially counter-intuitive it is easily explained by considering the topology of Facebook personal networks: networks with primarily closed triads tend to be networks with tightly bound foci (such as everyone from high school knowing each other) and few connections between foci. Networks with primarily open triads signify many crosscutting friendships across foci. Therefore, bonding social capital appears to be less tied to local clustering than to global cohesion.
Keywords: Social capital, Facebook, ego networks, transitivity, community detection
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