Community And Ties


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Community And Ties

  1. 1. Community and Ties Social Media – Dr. Giorgos Cheliotis ( Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore
  2. 2. Community  Term traditionally associated with a particular place and the people that live in it  Conjuring images of harmonious living in small villages or urban residential districts, with strong networks of trust and mutual support that are cultivated over generations  Deriving strength from shared interest, culture, religion, creed, race, national identity or social status 2 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  3. 3. How has our sense of community changed?  With every major socioeconomic and political shift our understanding of community has been challenged  Industrialization  Urbanization  Revolution  Migration  Poverty  Marginalization  In the era of computer-mediated communication we are also forced to rethink ‘community’ 3 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  4. 4. Polarization of community discourse Critics see an increase ICT enthusiasts see in individualization and unlimited potential in a weakening of the ability of online traditional community users to define ties; some even fear the community in new and destruction of local meaningful ways communities 4 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  5. 5. Common arguments from both sides Mark as true or false based on your understanding!  Relationships on the Internet  The Internet helps create are weak, short-lived and and manage many useful interest-based only weak ties  Low motivation to  People will help even those reciprocate; lack of they barely know commitment or solidarity  The maintenance of strong  Difficult to create sense of ties is assisted by ICT community online  Online communities do  Strong, intimate ties not develop norms, identity, possible attachment and reciprocity  Online involvement  Online participation can antagonizes offline increase diversity of ties communities  Online communities can  Online communities are not complement/support offline like offline communities activities 5 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  6. 6. 1. Narrowly specialized or broadly supportive? Main findings  The ideal broadly supportive ‘real life’ community is somewhat of a myth in modern urban societies  Some online communities do focus on a topic of interest and information exchange – narrower; but information is not the only thing that is exchanged online (example: support groups)  Greater willingness to engage with strangers (forming weak ties) in CMC due to lack of (offline) status and situational cues  Recognition: any sign of support will be viewed by entire online community; quicker and broader recognition  Lower risk: easier to withdraw from problematic situations online 6 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  7. 7. 2. Reciprocity and attachment Main findings  Reciprocity is essential; yet many online interactions are indeed based on weak ties which may reduce incentives to reciprocate  Social dilemma: why reciprocate if it is unlikely that others will?  However, online users do have reasons to take the first step and to reciprocate: increase in self-esteem, respect from others and status attainment in community  Group/organizational attachment visible in some online communities; directly related to generalized trust and reciprocity which in turn become community norms (“the person I may help may never be in a position to help me, but someone else might be”, Rheingold 1993) 7 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  8. 8. 3. Are strong, intimate ties possible? Main findings  CMC does encourage formation of weak ties which come with few strings attached. Strong ties on the other hand must exhibit certain characteristics: emotional investment, desire for frequent interaction, long-term relationship, sense of mutuality and knowing each other, often also shared social characteristics  Yet there are many examples of forming – and even more for maintaining – existing strong ties online  The antagonism offline-online makes less sense here – Internet just one of several channels people use to maintain strong ties  Some issues with lack of physical and social cues online; easier to misunderstand, unnecessary stress and polarization  Ease of terminating relationship online also an issue  But Internet generally does not preclude intimacy 8 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  9. 9. 4. How does online community affect offline? Main findings  Time spent in front of the computer is often time spent (physically) in isolation (mobile/portable devices changing that)  However, community involvement is not a zero-sum game; spending more time in an online community does not necessarily mean that offline ties will suffer – can also lead to increase in total time spent interacting with same people  Strong ties are supported by CMC (see also previous slide)  We must think in terms of relationships managed both offline and online rather than online vs. offline ties  Multiplex relationships: use of multiple media in interaction can aid in strengthening existing ties or in maintaining relationship when physically distant 9 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  10. 10. 5. Diversity Main findings  Traditional communities constrained by space, social status, roles and personal identity  On the Internet we tend to participate in multiple communities in parallel: greater diversity of ties (this also relates again to the ‘weak ties’ argument)  For a highly mobile population, allegiance to a diverse set of online communities can be even greater than for (the usually less diverse) offline communities we participate in  Caveat: forming ties online based on shared interests may lead to greater homogeneity of a different type (birds of a feather flock together)  Therefore, both offline/local and online communities can contribute to diversity, in distinct ways 10 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  11. 11. So, what is a ‘community’ online?  It is generally a community that is based more on shared interests and weak ties; less on social characteristics or strong ties  It is more ego-centric: individuals create social networks based on their interests and motivations; not tied to one community  But these are not either-or distinctions; communities come in many shapes and sizes  The traditional ideal of community is anyway little more than a “pastoralist myth” (Wellman and Gulia, 2007)  In this sense, asking “is community X really a community ?” is not very productive  It is more useful to ask: “what makes this a community in the eyes of its members?” 11 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  12. 12. The Strength of Weak Ties  We tend to value strong ties more because of the emotional investment and mutual expectations that they entail  Loss of a strong tie is likely to upset much more than the loss of a weak tie  So what if the Internet helps build more weak ties?  Weak ties provide unique benefits:  More likely to act as bridges between different social networks and communities  Because weak ties are less likely to be connected to one another than our close ties (transitivity)  This is known as the SWT (Strength of Weak Ties) hypothesis, which has been tested and verified in many studies 12 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  13. 13. What are the real benefits of bridges?  They provide information that is likely to be different to that of one’s personal network  Useful in job hunting  Widen the spectrum of influences and our own thinking, possibly improving our understanding of other people  But helping us also explore our individualism  They are more frequently the sources or early adopters of original thinking and innovation  Multiple influences engender novel thought  Less constrained by the vested interests of tightly-knit social groups  Assist in socialization, organizational effectiveness and collective action  Networks of strong ties tend to have access to the same resources and are closely knit, which engenders one-sided thinking, conformity to group norms and inter- group competition Gemeinschaft bridging Gesellshaft (community) (society) 13 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  14. 14. Limitations of weak ties  Not all weak ties are valuable bridges  Disparity between the rich and poor; the former tend to have more bridges in their networks (sometimes at the expense of less strong ties)  Potentially evoking less sympathy in time of need  Strong ties are more likely to go out of their way to help (e.g., with job loss and consequent unemployment)  Greater dependency of lower social strata on strong ties; but this is also a direct result of stratification and homophily rather than choice  Dependency on strong ties also leads to clustered communities with few if any bridges between them, leading to disadvantages  Slower and less credible/influential  We place more trust and act quicker on information received from strong ties 14 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  15. 15. A typology of online communities (1 of 2) Social networks The networks that we selectively create as individuals online Communities focused on the extension of one’s social circle, with little or no Networking/ pre-determined context (e.g., LinkedIn as a community designed for the Partnership purposes of professional networking, ex-pat networks, dating sites, etc.) Based on a common topic of interest. Members exchange views and information Communities of on the topic (e.g., a community of space exploration enthusiasts, a community Interest discussing environmental politics, fans of a certain artist, etc.) Based on a common practice. Members share knowledge & advice that will aid Communities of in their practice (e.g., academics sharing advise on teaching, a community of Practice athletes exchanging nutrition tips, bloggers sharing best practices, etc.) Communities built around a common goal or set of mutually held convictions, Collective Action usually with public agenda (e.g., online activists, evangelists of a religion, idea, or social practice, etc.) Providing emotional/psychological support to members, or other types of Support groups support (e.g., technical) Teams working on common tasks (e.g., a team working on a new piece of Workgroups software, or on a new advertizing campaign) Not mutually exclusive; these are different perspectives on community and more than one may be valid 15 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  16. 16. A typology of online communities (2 of 2) Local or regional online networks (e.g., a community focused on Singapore-only Location news and social commentary) Vocation Limited to a certain vocation (.e.g., a community of doctors who promote stem cell research, or of lawyers who specialize in intellectual property law) As defined by gender or sexual preference (e.g., a community of women in Gender academia, or a support group for homosexuals suffering from discrimination and social exclusion) Defined by language, culture, or other forms of social identity (e.g., a worldwide Language/Culture community of Chinese speakers and learners, or a community of native Americans in the US) Communities defined primarily by social end economic status (e.g., a community Social Status of Ivy League graduates, or a support network for migrant workers) Communities that are defined by organizational boundaries (intra-organizational, Organization e.g., a community of engineers working for Microsoft, or inter-organizational, e.g., an online network for employees of a group of partnering NGO’s) Some communities are primarily defined by the tools or software platforms they Platform use (e.g., the community of Facebook users, a community of Apple users., etc.) Communities can also be open/public or closed/private with respect to membership and/or content 16 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  17. 17. Thoughts on Design What type of community are you trying to build or wish to otherwise participate in? How do/will members of this community form ties with one another? How can you have greater attachment to the community while avoiding homogenization’s undesirable side-effects? Can you ensure that this online community will Think about the online complement/build on existing online and offline communities you know relationships, or will it clash with them? and try to understand their goals and scope, How can you build on the strengths of both strong how they function, and and weak ties while mitigating their disadvantages? how they could improve 17 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (
  18. 18. Credits and licensing  Frontpage photo by h.kopdelaney (license: CC BY-ND)  Polarization/opposite faces photo by Cayusa (license: CC BY-NC)  OLPC/iPhone chat photo by curiouslee (license: CC BY-NC)  Bond/tie photo by ChrisK4u (license: CC BY-ND) Original content in this presentation is licensed under the Creative Commons Singapore Attribution 3.0 license unless stated otherwise (see above) 18 CNM Social Media Module – Giorgos Cheliotis (