Increases and Decreases
In Social Capital
The definition of ‘social capital’ is easiest to define when looking at both words separately. Essentially, the ‘capital’ is the breadth, number and subsequent advantages of ‘social’ bonds. As sociologist John Fielding puts it, “Its central thesis can be summed up in two words: relationships matter.” (Field, J (2008). Social Capital. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. 1). These relationships may manifest themselves in numerous social contexts, such as in work, family, academic endeavors and so on. Regardless of context, the benefits that Fielding alludes to, and what really ‘matters’, are the accumulative efforts of social groups and the advantages they hold over individual labour. Social capital is especially applicable to our online social networks, and this essay will be analysing cases that support or reject the statement: ‘The internet has been linked both to increases and decreases in social capital’ (Ellison & Steinfield, 2007).
Despite existing since the 1960s, the level of integration within society that the Internet maintains now has only been achieved within the last decade. The flourish of social networking sites that make the Internet such a pivotal tool in our interactions with one another began around the turn of the millennia. Since the inception of sites like MySpace in 2003, the concept of a website where users may display their details and interact with one another has been capitalised on. These networks, often establishing themselves in the form of blogs paved the way to what are now fast becoming our online identities. The emergence of Facebook is exemplary of how online interaction has grown into a social institute. ‘Created in 2004, by 2007 Facebook was reported to have more than 21 million registered member generating 1.6 billion page views each day‘ (Needham & Company, 2007). It is clear from Facebook’s purpose that the avenues of social capital are fortified and strengthened by online social networks. The widespread use of Facebook has revolutionised many aspects of social interaction. Event organization for example, is now almost reliant on Facebook for it’s success. Facebook’s usage has reached such frequency from the population that it is now an eligible and required source of investigation for crime. The positive effects from this are outlined in the statement ‘Social Capital has been linked to a variety of positive social outcomes, such as better public health, lower crime rates, and more efficient financial markets (Adler & Kwon, 2002). At its core, Facebook exists to support networks of friends (initially college students), and in this sense it promotes social capital by enabling distance-independent communication. Despite these obvious virtues of Facebook however, there is some opposition to the idea that it promotes social capital. Donath and Boyd (2004) argue that social network websites do not promote social capital and societal bonds. Instead, they merely sustain weak, superficial bonds due to the ease and facile nature of online interactions. Examples of this are ‘liking’ friend’s photos, liking status’ and playing games with other Facebook friends. Bargh and McKenna (2004) argues that ‘Internet use distracts from face-to-face time with others, which might diminish an individual’s social capital’. However, it appears this thesis received criticism from Wellman, Haase and Witte who believe that ‘online interactions may supplement or replace in-person interactions, mitigating any loss from the time spent online’. These statements pronounce information on the rocketing popularity of social networking and how it has become the first choice of communication. Another factor to consider is online shopping. EBay is an online auction website where users can bid on items that other users are selling, users can contact each other about the product they are bidding/buying, this is considered a weak connection. EBay has over 14 million...
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