Social Capital and Online
Definition of Social Capital
Pre-SNS research and theory
Post-SNS research and theory
Examples of social media increasing social
Definition of Social Capital
Wellman et al. (2001)
Builds on analysis by Putnam on the
decline of social capital and civic
Two kinds of social interactions: bridging
Definition of Social Capital
Valenzuela et al. (2009)
Social capital: “The resources available to
people through their social interactions.” (p3)
e.g. social trust, civic engagement, life
satisfaction, political participation.
Uses Scheufele and Shah's framework (2000):
Wellman et al.: pre-SNS analysis
of online media and social capital
Three theories of the internet's effect on
Utopian – Internet use increases social
Dystopian – Internet use decreases social
Supplementary – Internet use
supplements social capital offline.
Does the internet
increase/decrease social capital?
The internet improves
The internet increases
can bridge gaps in
inferior to offline
competes for time with
Research and Conclusions
Looked at survey conducted using Nat Geo website visitors
Network capital: Found that internet use neither replaces offline
communication nor increases it.
Participatory capital: Tracks and supplements offline patterns.
Community commitment: Online community commitment
decreases due to exposure to unfavourable behaviour. Offline
community commitment no pattern.
Argues that this tracks a general trend away from strong socially
controlling communities towards individualisation, fragmentation.
Limitations of data prevent strong inferences.
Overall, they find that internet use is supplementary and doesn't
have enough impact to support either utopian or dystopian views.
Valenzuela et al.: post-SNS
analysis of social media & social
Authors observe flaws in earlier research
which fails to recognise the dynamic nature of
internet use e.g. compared to TV.
Looks at the effects of Facebook use on social
Social trust – Life Satisfaction
Civic engagement – Political Partication
As Facebook facilitates both bridging and
bonding, it can potentially increase all kinds of
Research and Findings
Survey of college students from two diverse universities in
When index of intensity of Facebook use was varied from
the lowest value to the highest value, they found:
Life Satisfaction was ceteris paribus 14.5 percentage
points higher for high use.
Social trust was 4.7 points higher.
Civic engagement increased 16.1 points for Facebook
use and 9.5 points for Facebook Groups use.
Political participation increased ceteris paribus 27.4
points for Facebook Groups use.
Most variables, including demographic variables were
Valenzuela et al. Conclusions
“The results show a stronger association of
Facebook use with the intrapersonal and
behavioral components of social capital than with
the interpersonal dimension.”
This doesn't mean that Facebook makes people
more satisfied etc., it could be that it attracts
What the small increases do mean though is that
theories of isolation and alienation are not valid.
However, even this analysis is limited and
The basic form of social capital, as defined
by Valenzuela et al., is “It is the resources
available to people through their social
YouTube stars are able to use New Media
to garner massive followings on YouTube,
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Able to use their fan base to enact
change/support a cause/raise money for
“Utilised social media as an effective means to
spread information and promote insurgent
agendas.” (Lindsey, 2013)
Facebook events, real-time tweets about the
events, YouTube videos showing the violence,
Reddit feeds dedicated to the events.
Powerful influencers came out of social media
use → Wael Ghonim and the Egyptian Revolution
Social media became such a powerful tool for
organising events that many nations shut down
The creation of Fandoms, especially on Tumblr, is
an example of community-building via social
You can “follow” people with similar interests to
e.g. comic book art, Photoshop, TV shows.
Television producers/writers know the power
behind fandoms and carefully consider what they
want when crafting episodes.
Fandoms are seen as powerful and very
Existing research doesn't support the idea that social
media use significantly affects social capital.
Positions which maintain a view of distinct
online/offline spheres fail to capture reality.
Social media can certainly facilitate increased social
capital (as shown in examples) despite what
Therefore we should look to promote these forms of
This suggests a case for a positive attitude towards
the relationship between social media and social
‘23 People Who Didn’t Know the Titanic was Real’, Twisted Sifter, available at
Lindsey, R.A. (2013), 'What the Arab Spring Tells Us About the Future of Social
Media in Revolutionary Movements', Small Wars Journal, Available online at :
http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/what-the-arab-spring-tells-us-about-thefutureof-social-media-in-revolutionary-movements/ [accessed 26/11/13].
Oehmke, P. (2012), 'The Unwilling Revolutionary: Egyptian Activist Wael
Ghonim's Quest for Peace', Spiegel Online, available at
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-unwilling-revolutionary-egyptianactivist-wael-ghonim-s-quest-for-peace-a-812884.html [accessed 26/11/13]
Valenzuela, S.; Park, N.; Kee, K.F. (2009), 'Is There Social Capital in a Social
Network Site?: Facebook Use and College Students’ Life Satisfaction, Trust, and
Participation', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 875–901.
Wellman, B.; Haase, A.Q.; Witte, J.; Hampton, K. (2001), 'Does the Internet
increase, decrease, or supplement social capital?', The American Behavioral
Scientist; 45, 3; ABI/INFORM Global, pg. 436.
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