A random sample of 800 Michigan State University (MSU) undergraduate students was retrieved from the MSU registrar's office. All 800 students were sent an email invitation from one of the authors, with a short description of the study, information about confidentiality and incentives, and a link to the survey. Two reminder emails were sent to those who had not responded. Participants were compensated with a $5 credit to their on-campus spending accounts. The survey was hosted on Zoomerang (http://www.zoomerang.com), an online survey hosting site, and was fielded in April 2006. Only undergraduate users were included in our sampling frame. A total of 286 students completed the online survey, yielding a response rate of 35.8% (see Table 1 for sample demographics). Demographic information about non-responders was not available; therefore we do not know whether a bias existed in regards to survey participation. However, when we compare the demographics of our sample to information we have about the MSU undergraduate population as a whole, our sample appears to be representative with a few exceptions. Female, younger, in-state, and on-campus students were slightly overrepresented in our sample.2 Conclusions
Our empirical results contrast with the anecdotal evidence dominating the popular press. Although there are clearly some image management problems experienced by students as reported in the press, and the potential does exist for privacy abuses, our findings demonstrate a robust connection between Facebook usage and indicators of social capital, especially of the bridging type. Internet use alone did not predict social capital accumulation, but intensive use of Facebook did. The strong linkage between Facebook use and high school connections suggests how SNSs help maintain relations as people move from one offline community to another. It may facilitate the same when students graduate from college, with alumni keeping their school email address and using Facebook to stay in touch with the college community. Such connections could have strong payoffs in terms of jobs, internships, and other opportunities. Colleges may want to explore ways to encourage this sort of usage. Online social network sites may play a role different from that described in early literature on virtual communities. Online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world but may indeed be used to support relationships and keep people in contact, even when life changes move them away from each other. In addition to helping student populations, this use of technology could support a variety of populations, including professional researchers, neighborhood and community members, employees of companies, or others who benefit from maintained ties. Acknowledgments
The authors wish to thank Dean Chuck Salmon and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University for their generous support of this research. References
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