Week 5

This week’s topic is “social networks and social capital.” I was not really familiar with the concept of social capital, so I appreciated the conceptualization that Lu and Hampton provided. I learned that tangible aid and emotional support are considered social capital, which made me think of the various ways I have seen people showing forms of support online.

While the article “Beyond the Power of Networks: Differentiating Network Structure from Social Media Affordances for Perceived Social Support” focuses on social capital in the context of Facebook, a social media platform where people (usually) connect with others that they have some sort of real-life connection, the article made me think of more anonymous social media sites like Reddit. It particularly reminded me of certain subreddits that offer tangible or emotional support, such as r/Random_acts_of_pizza, r/SuicideWatch, r/Depression, and the multitude of other subreddits dedicated to support. r/Random_acts_of_pizza is a highly moderated subreddit where a user can post either an offer to buy someone pizza, or request for pizza to be sent to them (and then they must submit a subsequent “thanks you” post). The other subreddits, dedicated to providing support for people suffering from mental afflictions, are frequented by members both asking for and offering support; those offering support often reply to posts saying the post can “PM” them anytime, meaning someone can personally message them to chat whenever. They may even offer their phone number or other means of contact. While these subreddits are comprised of people who are essentially total strangers to each other, I wonder if the resources they offer would still be considered social capital, because the people involved are not really invested much in each others’ social networks.

I found it interesting that while Penney’s article, as well as Groshek and Tandoc’s, seemed to mostly highlight the positive side of social networks in politics, Shin et al. painted it in a more negative light.

Penney discusses the hybridization of Bernie Sander’s campaign, which was comprised of both traditional campaign marketing, and “grassroots digital networks” (405). Staffers of Sanders’ campaign acknowledge this grassroot digital movement as being significantly important to the campaign. The online interconnectivity proved mostly useful and helpful for Sanders’ campaign (with the exception of the trolling from “Bernie Bros”), which essentially became viral through memes and #FeelTheBern. Groshek and Tandoc discuss how non-legacy journalists rose to prominence and engaged more with Twitter users than traditional news outlets in the coverage of police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown and sparked the Ferguson protests. The article highlights how, due to social networking sites, people with marginalized voices that would have otherwise been unheard are able to utilize social media platforms to share their views and participate more in politics.

In the article “Political rumoring on Twitter during the 2012 US presidential election: Rumor diffusion and correction,” the author highlights a more negative side of online social networks relating to political behaviors. Their study shows that Twitter mostly acts as an echo-chamber, where people mainly reinforce their own views even if it means accepting rumors, rather than challenging them. Homophily is prevalent in social networks (as Himelboim et al discusses), and ultimately, it is an integral part of online social networks that can result in both positive and negative consequences.


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