Assessing Structural Correlates to Social Capital in Facebook Ego Networks

Social Networks, Forthcoming

35 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2014

See all articles by Brandon Brooks

Brandon Brooks

Queens University of Charlotte

Bernie Hogan

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Nicole Ellison

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information

Cliff Lampe

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information

Jessica Vitak

UMD iSchool

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Brooks, Brandon and Hogan, Bernie and Ellison, Nicole and Lampe, Cliff and Vitak, Jessica, Assessing Structural Correlates to Social Capital in Facebook Ego Networks (2014). Social Networks, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2384873

Brandon Brooks (Contact Author)

Queens University of Charlotte ( email )

Knight School of Communication
1900 Selwyn Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28209
United States

Bernie Hogan

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Nicole Ellison

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information ( email )

304 West Hall
550 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092
United States

Cliff Lampe

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - School of Information ( email )

304 West Hall
550 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1092
United States

Jessica Vitak

UMD iSchool ( email )

4th Floor, 4130 Campus Dr
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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