Social media offer us effortless ways to stay in touch with large numbers of individuals. These individuals can be friends (strong ties), acquaintances (weak ties), or people we barely know (absent ties). Decades of social capital research have shown that strong ties are useful because they provide us with emotional support and weak ties are useful because they provide us with non-redundant useful information, but absent ties do not provide us with any benefits at all. Now, social media challenge these conclusions. Through social media, people connect to absent ties daily, so apparently there are benefits involved. My central question therefore is:
To what extent do social media change how, and from whom, we seek and receive informational and emotional support?
Social media technologies have changed the frequency and nature of our social connections. Smart phones allow a constant connection with our social network, sometimes even preventing us from socializing face-to-face. Twitter facilitates asymmetric relationships, such that even marginalized individuals can connect to important information sources. Facebook has set a norm where individuals who in the past we would merely have nodded to, are now embedded in our network of “friends“. It seems natural to assume that, if the way we maintain our social network changes, the way we extract social capital from that network also changes.
To deepen our understanding of the effects of social media use on receiving informational and emotional support, I will employ several methods. By means of a large longitudinal study (subproject 1) in a representative sample, I aim to detect causal relationships between social media use at time t and informational and emotional benefits at time t+x. In addition, two subprojects will study in detail the cognitive and affective processes underlying informational (subproject 2) and emotional (subproject 3) benefits of social media use.
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