Social Order in Online Social Networks
- Online Social Network
A social network on the World Wide Web
- Social Network
A set of individuals connected by a set of dyadic ties
A relationship between two individuals
Social order, a technical term from social sciences (Frank 1944), is the study of how social creatures (such as human beings) are both individual and social (Hechter and Horne 2003). As Hechter and Horne (2003) point out, social order occurs when individuals coordinate and cooperate with each other.
Social order in online social networks and the coordination and cooperation that give rise to them appear in many different structural forms. Examples include homophily, communities (a.k.a. groups), weak ties, structural holes, and social capital.
Homophily The notion of homophily (i.e., “of like attracting like”) has been around since the ancient Greeks. It is often quoted that Plato said, “Similarity begets friendship.” Previous research (McPherson et al. 2001) has shown that homophily is a major criterion governing the formation of ties in social networks. Many social networks have high levels of homophily (Easley and Kleinberg 2010, pp. 79–81). Coordination and cooperation is often more successful between people who are similar to each other – either in terms of status or value (McPherson et al. 2001).
Communities Generally speaking, communities are defined as groups of individuals that are well connected to each other. The existing literature contains many objective functions and algorithms that formalize the aforementioned definition and produce communities (Leskovec et al. 2010). The one pertinent to social order is where a community has low conductance, i.e., where the ratio of ties crossing the community boundary to ties within the community is low (Leskovec et al. 2010). Members of such communities are often tightly connected. These highly connected structures, in turn, promote trust among their members – an important property for social order.
Leskovec et al. (2008) found that the sizes of communities in large online networks roughly follow the Dunbar number (~150) (Dunbar 1998) and that large well-defined communities are absent in online networks. These findings make intuitive sense since maintaining relationships besides the trivial ones requires substantial investment in terms of our neocortex processing capabilities (Dunbar 1998).
Moreover, Leskovec et al. (2008) describe large social networks as having a nested core-periphery structure, where the network is composed of layers of large cores and a small number of dense communities loosely connected to the core. This result indicates the presence of a hierarchy or nested social order in online social networks. In other words, the levels of coordination and cooperation vary depending on where in the nested core-periphery structure a person resides.
Weak Ties Granovetter (2003) was the first to distinguish between weak and strong ties in social networks. He informally defined tie strength as the “amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” (Granovetter 2003, p. 1361). Weak ties correspond to “local bridges” (Easley and Kleinberg 2010), where two people have zero common friends. The lack of common friends can make coordination and cooperation difficult and reduce social order.
Structural Holes Burt (2004) defined structural holes as the empty spaces (i.e., no connections) between groups in the social network. People who fill these structural holes bring social order to the network because they control the information flow and are rewarded with power and wealth.
Social Capital Being members of a community has many advantages (Portes 1998). For example, belonging to a community with high triadic closure (where friend of a friend is a friend) and embeddedness (where two people share many of the same friends) enforces norms and maintains reputational effects. In other words, this “closure” of friends promotes trust. The counterbalance to closure is brokerage. People who are “brokers” interact at the boundary of various communities, i.e., they fill the structural holes. As mentioned above, such people have more social capital compared to others in the community.
Social order, in terms of closures and brokerages, is essential in the preservation of social networks. Closures give rise to communities, while brokerages give rise to connections across various communities.
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