Archive for the ‘Social Networks and Social Network Ties’ Category

If You Want to Test a Man’s Character, give him power–Abraham Lincoln.

This week’s readings made me realize a basic fact of the study of social networks, it’s all about power: access to it, maintaining it, struggling to get it and gatekeeping newcomers to the power circle.

In the beginning, there was Grannovetter’s Strength of Weak Ties (1973). He said that the social network ties that joined people are strong or weak. Strong ties form a dense network. Ron Burt would say these networks are full of redundant information because if A has strong ties to B and C it is likely that B and C share a tie as well; the information would just roll around those three actors. He went on to describe a situation where A might also have a tie to Z who isn’t connected to B or C and is situated within their own network. Granovetter called this a weak tie and likened it  to a bridge. Whereas a cluster of strong ties share similar information among their network, the weak tie serves as a conduit for information and innovation that might be otherwise unavailable. He illustrates this point by demonstrating that political power of community groups attempting to preserve their neighborhood. While networks of strong ties imply high levels of trust, weak ties carry a level of trust which is earned over time by the sharing of timely and helpful information (Burt 1993). It is the networks that had weak ties to others outside of the community that received and shared the information necessary to seize power, mobilize and take action. Those without those ties had insufficient information to form powerful coalitions, were hampered and lost their fight.

In 1993 Burt expanded on this with the concept of structural holes in an article about the social structure of completion. Competition for what?  Power, which can take the form of information, resources or finances. He connected the concept of tie strength to economic power by positioning it as an element of structural holes. Structural holes look at the superstructure, the junction where networks connect.  Structural hole theory says that where there is a hole, two networks that have no connection to each other, there is an opportunity for someone to position themselves as an intermediary between the two networks and serve as a bridge to that chasm. The person who bridges that structural hole also positions themselves to enhance their personal social capital. Lin’s definition of social capital reinforces the power dynamic of social networks: investment in social relations with expected return” (p.6). Later he cites Coleman’s definition, of social capital being the resources embedded in a social structure which are accessed and /or mobilized in purposive actions. Social capital is mutual and dynamic, both parties bring something to the table. The social capital of the individual nodes, enhance the social capital of the group.

Social Capital. What is it? What does it do? The 4 elements to explain the need for social capital are completely about retention, enhancement and control of societal power:

  • Facilitating the flow of information that can aid in finding opportunities and choices not usually available
  • Exerting influence (putting in a good word for someone lower on the social scale)
  • The certification of social credentials
  • The reinforcement of identity and recognition

Lin provides an understanding of social capital by beginning with definitions of capital put forth by economic theorists such as Marx and sociologists such as Bourdieu who discuss capital as a tool of the dominant class to incent and control the working classes. (Whereas Marx saw it solely as an oppressive tool, Bourdieu conceded that the working class might adopt and become invested in meanings of the symbols used by the dominant class for their own benefit.) According to Lin, Marx presented capital as being about antagonistic class struggle and neocapitialists presented it as a layered series of discourses.

So how do weak ties, social capital and structural holes all come together?

Weak ties provide the basic structure that spans structural holes in a network. The motivated individual can cultivate a weak tie in a disconnected network and by sharing information that is timely and relevant to the interests of his or her weak tie’s network, build individual social capital that adds to the social capital of the group. The weak ties close the structural hole. In closing that hole social capital is built.[1]

That this becomes about power is evident in Cote and Erickson (2009) where they look at the role of social capital in how Canadian ethnic minorities are viewed. One of the findings was that people with more education and people in higher socio-economic strata were more tolerant of minorities. One of their comments is that the tolerance among these groups is that racial minorities pose no threat to their societal, political or economic power. I would add that another element of power is the ability of these groups (which carry a great deal of overlap) is the power to determine which individual members of a given minority group can “cross over” to more powerful strata through actions including college admissions, the distribution of scholarships and grant money, promotions, letters of recommendation, etc. These actions serve to enhance the social capital of the individual who is a member of the dominant culture by bringing new blood into the dominant network and in the dominated culture by positioning them as a friend and ally of the group.

[1] I suspect the Ron Burt would take issue with my use of the phrase “close the structural hole” but that is very much how I see it. The hole exists because of the absence of a weak tie. Let’s say you have two networks that share no connections. They are like two islands. The person who steps in to bridge that gap between the two is closing that gap (and putting him or herself in a position of power. They can control the content, flow and direction of information.


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Is Facebook Doomed? is the kind of article that irks me.

It quotes a financial analyst named Eric Jackson who said, “In five to eight years they  [Facebook] are going to disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappered [sic]”. Anyone who makes the  grand pronouncement that by 2020 FB will have gone the way of Yahoo is stating the obvious. Of course it will and the most junior of students of social media can tell you that.

It’s what Nicole Ellison and danah boyd told us back in 2008. In their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, the “History” part tells the story of social networking sites (SNS). From 6 Degrees to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, all of these sites grow, dominate their landscape for a few years (except for 6 Degrees which *created* the landscape the subsequent SNS inhabited), and then sharply contract as their users migrate elsewhere. However, they don’t disappear; instead, after a period of dormancy and realignment, they reinvent themselves. Friendster did it, MySpace has done it and there were rumors a few years ago that 6 Degrees was trying to reboot itself (but the new “invite only” iteration seems to have sunk beneath the waves).[1]

It has been 6 years since Facebook opened up to the general public. It’s already been at the top of the SNS game twice as long as MySpace was. All social media sites have a lifespan, they end up declining either because they don’t have a critical mass of users to support they become so big that they implode as new users flock to the next big thing.

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendency also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

TPTB[2] might revoke my “Like” button, but I’m predicting that the innovation that supersedes Facebook will be here within the next 3-5 years.

I don’t know exactly what it will be but it will come from an industry outsider (Sorry Google but I’m channeling Granovetter here, innovation comes into a network from without and you’re too strongly tied to the rest of big tech, you are an insider).  I also predict that when it happens the remaining users will not be young people, but people 30 and older. This is because their weakest connections are the more sentimental ones from their past and Facebook facilitates a high level of ease in maintaining those ties. I predict that older users will be less likely to move to a different platform when so much of their history, people as well as artifacts, is already embedded within the site.

Finally, I think that whatever succeeds Facebook will have a highly customizable user interface but a very stable base. Right now, Facebook seems to tweak a notable feature every 6-12 months, it changes the layout and the usual outcome is the people complain for a while until they become acclimated. I’m predicting that the successive technology will have a user interface that is modular (you can swap elements in and out as you desire), but the basic screen will remain fairly consistent. This will enable the site to add new modules for users to plug into their personal interface if they so choose. The process of changing up the interface will be WYSIWYG[3].

Aaaand I think I just described a smartphone, lol.


boyd, d. m., Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), Article 11.

Dimmel, Brandon. (2012) Is Facebook doomed: analyst predicts site irrelevant by 2020.  http://www.manolith.com/2012/06/05/is-facebook-doomed-analyst-predicts-site-irrelevant-by-2020/ Retrieved September 23, 2012.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), pp. 1360-1380.

[1] The stated goal of 6 Degrees was to connect with Friends of Friends (of friends of friends and so on up to 6 nodes away) for informational and/or recreational purposes. They even showed you a diagram that would look very familiar to social network analysts where you were the central node, people you knew were connected to you by a line and were at the center of their own network systems.

I found the idea of 6 Degrees making a return tantalizing though because that was the first SNS that I used. While anyone looking at the interface would recognize it as an SNS the way we are used to today, its downfall is that there just weren’t enough Internet users who used the site to sustain it.

Only about 23%of US adults had Internet access in 1996, the year 6 Degrees rolled out. Internet users were still relatively elite group technologically, socio-economically, as well as by race and gender. (Suffice to say, my sister and I were oddities in the online world.) First, they had the financial resources to purchase a computer that would have been fast enough get you on and around the Internet in the first place. Then you needed a modem (which was generally purchased separately from your computer) and the money to pay the monthly Internet access charges. They also needed the technical know-how to set up their modem (do they even still have those master and slave switches inside a computer anymore, lol).

I also wonder if a large portion of people who might have used 6 Degrees were already networking through sites like Usenet, Prodigy and local online communities like The Well.

[2] The Powers That Be

[3] What You See Is What You Get

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(When I use the term trans*, I am specifically, not including transgender individuals under that label. I will be posting a page defining these concepts shortly)

Other hoaxes I’ve blogged about here came to light when the deception was dragged into the light, generally by someone who become suspicious of the deceptive narrative. In this case it seems the goal here was to only perpetrate this hoax long enough to rook enough people so the hoaxers could say, “Gotcha!” I find this hoax interesting because up to now, most of the incidents I’ve reviewed were either rooted in filling a psychological need and in the case of LonelyGirl15 was a marketing scheme. Depending on your POV, these hoaxers were calling attention to a perversion of the social justice movement by slacktivists or kids being mean and dismissive of groups that already feel marginalized.

Language is a social construct. We string together a group of sounds and point at an object called an automobile or a pair of glasses. Identity is also something of  a social construct. We identify with certain groups based upon thinks such our race or ethnic background, what we do for a living or what we do in our free time. Those labels we embrace became shorthand as societal (and often personal) stereotypes project meaning onto a person’s identity. Regardless of whether a part of our identity is innate or self selected, disabled versus jock, for example, elements of each of those labels we wear have a societally assigned meaning as well as a personal one.

For example, let’s say you injure yourself slipping on an icy sidewalk and a person runs up to you to offer assistance, if she says she is a doctor that will carry with it one meaning as opposed to if the person is wearing a Dunkin’ Donuts uniform. The doctor might be a dermatologist and the Dunkin’ Donuts employee a highly experienced volunteer EMT but their words and dress can affect the trust you have in them if they begin administering first aid to you.

The concept of Otherkin (and in fact the whole trans* movement) is possibly an example of the exponential effect CMCs have on the constitutive nature of language in the construction of identity. If someone posts to an Otherkin support site about coming to the realization that he or she is a cat in a human body, that statement will be supported and his or her identity as such will be reinforced.  If one is engaged in a role playing game or belongs to the furry subculture, it is understood that these are identities that serve as temporary wrappers for the person others know and interact with in the concrete world. Trans* people, though, are the mirror images of that social construct. The human being who passes through the concrete world is the wrapper and the trans* image (species, disability, race, etc.) is the true being, not a persona.

This raises some questions for me. Usually, both verbal and visual (clothing, the objects we carry with us, the vehicle we drive) cues construct our identity. In the context of Internet dating that identity is self created with text and photographs but if and when the people meet, that adds to the other person’s perception of an individual’s identity.

But, what does it mean if your self constructed identity is solely textual and at complete odds with all of the other visual and verbal cues and personal artifacts associated with a person. I might tell you I’m a wolf trapped in a human body but I am visibly human in appearance, action and public behavior. If the only place my true identity exists is within the bounded reality of the Internet and the only way I construct it is with words and occasional graphics that bear no resemblance to my concrete flesh, what does that say about the constitutive nature of language on identity, how broadly and deeply can the scope of this constituation go? If you are just one of a community of thousands who are all constructing or supporting the construction of identity in this manner what does this mean.

Is there a sociological or philosophical justification for trans* people for  appropriate the language of the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements?

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In Part I of The Stranger Among Us, I described a pattern I’ve notices in incidents of online identity deception that included the cultivation of a shadow network of strong ties within the online community.

Julie Graham cultivated strong enough ties with select female members of her community they disclosed intimate details of problems they were having to her. When it came out that the persona of Julie was a lie, one of the often quoted community responses is succinct and potent, “I felt raped” (Stone, 1991, p. 3; see also McGeer, 2004). Kaycee Nicole Swenson formed a such a strong connection with one group member that he helped her set up a website for her poetry (http://www.metafilter.com/comments.mefi/7819) and said that she was like a daughter to him. J.S. Dirr engaged in at least two cyber romances during that decade long hoax.

Seeking a deeper connection with select group member in and of itself is typical behavior. People will tend to gravitate towards others based on commonalities such as proximity, shared interests, etc. However, the act of cultivating these sub rosa relationships should create a high level of tension for the deceptive individual.

On one hand the goal of the deceptive individual is to prevent detection.  Academics writing about deception have noted that the language constructs used by the deceptive individual are designed to create distance between the false persona and the community. Ambiguous language is a tool of the trade when perpetrating an online deception (Newman, Pennebaker, Berry & Richards, 2003; Hancock, Curry, Goorha, & Woodworth ,2008 ).  This seems to be in direct conflict with the trading of increasingly intimate confidences that deepen a tie

Even though the disclosures are comprised of (at least partially) manufactured information, you’re still talking about an additional piece of deceptive narration that a person has to keep track of. They not only have to keep it straight with the individual they are bonding with but they also have to keep it consistent with the deceptive narrative they are creating within the group. If they are bonding the false person to multiple group members than means there are additional threads for each deepening tie.

This leaves me with a few questions. First, is this something anecdotal, maybe it’s just the case studies I’ve been drawn to read up on? If it’s not, my next question is why does this occur? Is the deceptive person seeding the community with “defenders” who they can depend on to confirm the veracity of the false persona? In cases where the impetus for the deception seems based in emotion, could this just be another way the deceptive individual is trying to get their needs met? (It is interesting to note that in the case of the LonleyGirl15 hoax on YouTube, the false persona initiated selected contact with media sources, but not individuals).


Hancock, J. T., Curry, L. E., Goorha, S., & Woodworth, M. (2008). On lying and being lied to: A linguistic analysis of deception in computer-mediated communication. Discourse Processes, 45(1), 1-23. doi:10.1080/01638530701739181

http://www.metafilter.com/comments.mefi/7819 (retreived June 30, 2012)

McGeer, V. (2004). Developing trust on the internet. Analyse & Kritik, 26(1), 91-107.

Newman, M. L., Pennebaker, J. W., Berry, D. S., & Richards, J. M. (2003). Lying words: Predicting deception from linguistic styles. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(5), 665-675.

Stone, A. R. (1991). Will the real body please stand UP? In M. Benedikt (Ed.), Cyberspace: First steps (pp. 81-118). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Below is my long list of PhD programs I might apply to.  The next step is to do some additional research and narrow this list down to 4-6 schools.

I want to take a closer look at the research the schools’ current PhD cohorts are working on as well as the PhD dissertations for the past 3-5 years.

I should have my final list by mid July so I can begin work on my essays and begin submitting my apps in the Fall

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present my long list….

  • New York University (New York)
  • North Carolina State University in Raleigh (North Carolina)
  • Northwestern University (Illinois)
  • Purdue (Indiana)
  • Rutgers University (New Jersey)
  • UC @ Santa Barbara (California)
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Illinois)
  • University of Kansas (Kansas)
  • USC (California)

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I might be thinking about social network ties in the wrong way.

First let me give a rundown of the different types of social networking ties (this list is adapted from a paper I wrote in 2012):

  •  Absent: People an individual does not know or person meets in passing like a mailman
  • Weak: A tie to a person who would generally be deemed as acquaintance. She or he serves as a local bridge between social networks that would otherwise be disconnected. Weak ties are associated with bridging social capital
  • Strong: A tie to a person who is generally a close friend or family member. This type of tie bonds people who have a high degree of similarity and forms the core of an individual’s social network. Strong ties are associated with bonding social capital (Granovetter, 1973)
  • Latent: A tie for which a connection is available technically but that has not yet been activated by social interaction (Haythornthwaite, 2002, p. 389).
  • Dormant: Situations where two people had a social network tie in the past (strong or weak) but drifted apart and no longer communicate with each other. The social network tie can be considered severed. (Levin, Walter, and Murnighan 2011)
  • Diminished: A tie, weak or strong that has weakened. This might occur when a neighbor moves out of a neighborhood or a co-worker goes to a new department
  • Spontaneous: When one individual actively seeks to connect with a stranger with whom they have something in common or seek to obtain information from.

Absent, weak, and strong ties relate to existing social networking ties that serve a purpose in the present. Weak ties serve as conduits for the exchange of new and innovative information and strong ties form our mutual support system.  Even an absent tie, if put in the context of your mailman or barista, serves an immediate purpose: a pre-programmed interaction that nets you information or a commodity but does not add any appreciable weight to a given individual’s social network.

However, the other types of ties I mentioned describe the ways in which people are (re)introduced into or slip out of a given social network. In the case of a spontaneous or latent tie, the two people may have little or no knowledge of each other at all until one of them finds the other in some technological database and initiates an interaction. Dormant ties are essentially a broken link and no longer serve the social network until they are reactivated. A diminished tie is ultimately a going to be either a weak or absent tie; the designation “diminished” refers the movement of the tie within the social network.

I feel as though the diagram I developed is too facile. I’m imagining something  that needs to be 3 dimensional I just can’t wrap my mind around what it should look like.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), pp. 1360-1380.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2002). Strong, weak, and latent ties and the impact of new media. Information Society, 18(5), 385-401. doi:10.1080/01972240290108195

Levin, D. Z., Walter, J., & Murnighan, J. K. (July/August 2011). Dormant ties: The value of reconnecting. Organization Science, 22(4), 923-939. doi:10.1287/orsc.1100.0576

Relationships of Social Network Ties (Diagram Jeter, 2012, unpublished)

Relationships of Social Network Ties (Diagram Jeter, 2012, unpublished)

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I am a movie fanatic, especially older movies. The past few weeks, I’ve seen several movies that deal with wartime romances which led me to thinking about Walther’s theories about hyperpersonal communication (1996).

In his description of the phenomenon, he talks about an idealized perception on the part of the communication partners as they fill in the information they don’t have about each other with the most positive assumptions possible. I wonder if two people have a relatively short time to get to know each other a similar process occurs. It logical that it might be a contributing factor. There may even be some deindividualization going on if the civilian partner (usually a female) sees and responds to the the uniform, the symbol o the fragility of the relationship as well as life, as opposed to the seeing the person who is wearing it.

Obviously Walther’s work deals specifically with cases where the communication partners are confined to communicating via CMC whereas the situation I am talking about the partners are co-located for the duration of this bonding process. I wonder though if the situation of people meeting when one of them is most likely (if not imminently) facing a danger creates an intensified sense of reality that leads to communication behaviors that are similar to what Walther describes.

I would be interested to read a couple of scholarly articles on the communication processes associated with called wartime romances.

(Some of the movies that feature this include, A Farewell to Arms, Waterloo Bridge, The man in the Grey Flannel Suit, The Best Years of Our Lives and many others.)

Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal interaction. Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43. doi:10.1177/009365096023001001

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