In “The Benefits of Facebook ‘Friends:’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites,” Nicole B. Ellison, Charles Steinfield and Cliff Lampe examine the relationship between use of Facebook and the formation and maintenance of social capital (the resources accumulated through the relationships among people), arguing that there is a strong association between Facebook and the three types of social capital (bridging social capital, bonding social capital and maintained social capital). However, its strongest relationship lies in bridging social capital.
The authors begin by defining the different types of social capital. Bridging social capital is linked to what we call ‘‘weak ties,’’ which are loose connections between individuals who may provide useful information or new perspectives for one another but typically not emotional support. Bonding social capital is found between individuals in tightly-knit, emotionally close relationships, such as family and close friends. Lastly, maintained social capital speaks to the ability to maintain valuable connections as one progresses through life changes.
In order to find Facebook’s strongest relationship to social capital, Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe conducted a survey, with a random sample of 800 Michigan State University undergraduate students. A total of 286 students completed the online survey, yielding a response rate of 35.8%. In the survey, to name a few, facebook usage intensity, self-esteem, satisfaction with life in college and the different types of social capital were measured. Based on survey results, the authors can definitively state that there is a positive relationship between certain kinds of Facebook use and the maintenance and creation of social capital— primarily bridging social capital.
It’s interesting to see these 2007-based results in 2021. I think if this same survey were conducted today, the results would be very different due to the introduction of new social media platforms. For example, I would think that Facebook today would actually have the strongest relationship with bonding social capital, or perhaps maintained social capital over bridging social capital. While Facebook may have had a very strong percentage of users on college campuses in 2007, the primary users of Facebook today are people trying to keep in touch with old friends and relatives. People use the platform to maintain old relationships, rather than form new ones. The platform has completely changed in terms of its user profiles. Rather, Instagram seems to have a relationship with bridging social capital today— at least more than Facebook does.
Do new platforms tend to correlate with new relationships? I ask this question as it seems that Facebook used to be used to form new relationships. Now that it is older than newer platforms, it is where people go to maintain old relationships.