Posted by: katieaoreilly | November 19, 2014

Para-social Capital

Conan tweet

Social networks: Where we go to connect, interact, keep in touch. They are a wonderful resource, allowing people to maintain relationships across time and space without in-person interaction. Valenzuela, Park and Kee (2009) say that online interactions encourage individuals to expand and diversify their social circles, thereby increasing their social capital. It leads me to wonder though, is all social capital created equal?

Researchers remain divided on the true impact social networking sites have on users. Our course readings suggest that the impacts are largely positive but others, including author Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone, 2000), worry that decreased in-person interaction actually leads to a decrease in social capital because opting into online communities allows people to become less engaged in physical communities.

Both online and in-person communication offer reciprocity, but it is how these relationships are perceived by SNS users that interests me. When individuals are able to interact with the media they may feel a higher level of closeness to a source, but in reality the relationships formed online can be very one-sided (Hash & McCutcheon, 2001), which is where para-social relationships come into play. Following Conan O’Brien on Twitter gives me a view into his life and the sense that we are closer than we truly are, but what does Conan O’Brien know about me? By expanding my social circle online to include people I will never meet in person, am I really increasing my social capital, or is it just my perception? What am I giving up by staying online?


  1. Excellent post Katie!

  2. j

  3. I don’t think you are giving up anything, Katie. If we compare social interactions of one hundred years ago to today, yes, we look like anti-social weirdos that need a hug. But if you think about it, we are definitely interacting a lot more than we did in decades of passive television viewing. It is not the internet that is making us stay home, that is just the way we are evolving to be. At least now we are engaging with other people, exchanging ideas and participating in discussions that we would have never been able to without this technology.

    Donath and boyd believed that social media increases your weak connections rather than increasing strong ones. We are connected to a lot of people that we will never meet, but I believe they add to your social capital as well. Social capital is defined as “the resources available to people through their social interactions”. Conan O’Brien is a resource to you, providing you humorous information on a daily basis.  Professional connections, people posting dog/Marilyn/J.T pictures- you chose to have these people for a reason, and you can erase them at your will. What is left is your social capital, which is constantly evolving.

    And our strong connections? Definitely increases them. If we relied on physical visits and phone calls, our friendship would be different. We communicate through memes, share articles and things of interest, and it has allowed us to have an understanding of each other that would not have happened otherwise.

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