Rhetoric And Media



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Social capital has been a term used lately in sociology theories. It is a term that has been in use for a while with Durkheim proposing that involvement and participation in groups can have positive consequences for the individual and the community (Durkheim, 2014). In this day and age, social capital describes the intensity of networks among people and the shared values that arise from those networks. With the rise of so many social networks in the world, there are so many changes to social capital happening.

People who would never have interacted before are forming their own networks which have both negative and positive effects. Understanding how the changes are impacting interactions is important to both policy-makers and the communities they occur in. Can social capital be measured? It is complex but it can be done. One way to measure it is levels of trust, membership to their selected social networks and how much social contact the individuals have. The internet has blurred social capital and it is no longer about physical contact.

Individuals are connecting and helping people who they have never met before leading to a surge of charity based networks. Citizens are able to organise petitions to their governments on issues they feel should be looked into and this has brought with it a kind of ‘citizen police’. As with everything, it also has its negative impact. This essay will look at social capital, aspects of social capitals and networks and the impact internet has had on social capital. Has use of the internet increased decreased or supplemented social capital? Do the capabilities of the internet reduce contact, participation and involvement in the community? How is it possible to measure the effects of the use of internet on social interactions? An attempt will be made in the following sections to answer these questions.




A social relationship is the common factor in all definitions used for social capital. Social capital has been linked to social status, health and well-being and indication of prosperity. Social capital has several elements; first, social networks and social support is necessary. This support includes information exchange, emotional, financial or social support. Those within similar circles ask for help from each other as they are more familiar and have similar interests. The other aspect is trust and often comes as a result of participating in social networks. It is built over time and is essential to the social network growing.

There are various forms of social networks within social capital (Wellman, 2001). First, there are formal and informal networks. Formal networks are more organised such as sports clubs and create formal support such as neighbourhood associations. Informal networks could be a group of friends who met on a trip and is more of an emotional bond between the members of that network. Another form of social network that is often confused is between bonding and bridging networks. Bonding networks refer to those who are similar to each other whereas bridging networks refer to those who are different from each other. Bonding networks are based on similarities whereas bridging networks are based on differences. It has been shown in previous studies that there are differences in social capital geographically and a decline in social capital in various countries.

When the internet was introduced, it was feared that its use would only be limited to traditional internet users such as engineers and computer scientists. Over the years, its use has expanded to include students, businesspeople, professionals and parents. It is easily accessible across the globe and can be found everywhere including homes and schools. The internet offers constant social connectivity on a larger and faster scale. The internet has created new forms of online interaction, connecting those with similar interests, overcoming limitations of distance and time. The internet has enabled friends and family to keep in contact at low costs with sharing of photos, music and videos therefore enhancing the relationship.

Organizational development has also improved with the amount of information found on the internet and the flow of information between individuals and groups. People are able to arrange offline to meet online and discuss their interests and keep up-to-date with current situations. So if the internet increases social capital, then there should be more offline personal contact and community participation. The final element in social capital is community, be it local or global. All the social networks create a sort of community that is held together by their beliefs, interests or cause. Looking into how something as global and powerful as the internet affects social capital would be key to understand how social capital has changed over the years.

A positive impact on social capital is that performance and attitudes across the globe are improving. Individuals are able to access information and share with others. They are able to advise each other and feel like they are playing a role in the community. This improves an individual’s self-worth and improves their mental health. Governments are able to interact with their citizens more effectively and let them know current happenings. Citizens as well are able to participate more effectively such as creating on line petitions for issues they feel strongly about and effect change. Such interactions improve relations between communities that though diverse, have common interests.

The internet has also improved attitudes towards various issues such as race, sexual orientation and climate change. It has provided a platform for communities to present their ideologies and beliefs. Though each individual has a right to their own opinion, injustices and prejudices are being exposed daily on the internet; as a result people are aware of what is happening around the globe and bringing attention to issues that would otherwise be hidden away. Offline contact is increasing as communities gear towards showing solidarity in causes such as marches and meetings. This has been seen with communities protesting particular social injustices.

A different view is that the internet has decreased social capital as a higher value is placed on offline interactions compared to face-to-face interactions which are inherently of higher value. Internet activity has been increasing steadily which has led to decrease in time committed to other activities. Attention is drawn from physical activities and the less time people spend with one another, social skills decline (Nie et al, 2002). This has been compared to the effect television has had on the society.

Studies have shown that because of the internet, there is less interaction between individuals. In households, this has led to lack of communication and increased incidences of children misbehaving. Parents are able to bring their work home and so do not give their children the attention and guidance they need. The internet has also made available a lot of information to children and so they make decisions off of what they see online. This has led to increase in bullying and them seeking validation from online communities (Valkenburg, 2009). Social capital has decreased dramatically within adolescents as shown in recent studies. Social skills are on a decline as individuals skills in interacting face-to-face are decreasing.

The internet has provided an alternative means of communication other than the conventional methods; it is cheaper and faster. Online interactions have also created new relationships that would not have existed before. It is able to connect people with similar interests and opinions across the globe thereby creating online communities (Quan-Hasse & Wellman, 2004). The relationships formed online are no different to those formed offline (Mckenna et al, 2002). The anonymity of the internet may have helped in the formation of these relationships but it also comes with less disclosure and opportunities to mislead others. This plays on levels of trust within people; and trust is a measure of social capital.

The threat of terrorism has had an impact on social capital. Extremists use the internet to propagate propaganda and have led to an increase in number of individuals joining terror groups. As a result, companies and individuals are being monitored and this has led to decrease in trust between individuals and companies that handle their information. In addition, hackers have been active in the last five years, releasing sensitive information. These incidences have not been studies yet to see how social capital is affected. It would be a worthwhile research pursuit. Internet use supplements network capital by extending existing levels of face-to-face and telephone contact. The Internet is especially used to maintain ties with friends. Friends usually interact as either two people or two couples, whereas family and neighbours are likely to be in densely knit social networks.

The internet is used as a tool for solitary activities that keep people from engaging with their families and in their communities. Not all online activities compete with offline interactions, for example, people read newspapers or search for information online or offline. Internet use increases participatory capital. The more people are on the internet and the more they are involved in online organizational and political activity, the more they are involved in offline organizational and political activity as shown in a previous study (Wellman et al, 2001). People already participating offline will use the internet to extend their participation. This is because they can be able to find like-minded people and it increases their enthusiasm for their cause. This in turn, increases community involvement as a wider group of people get involved and contribute to their cause or interest. It has been argued that the internet cannot be a source of ‘real relationships’ as the interactions on-line are only on surface value known as secondary relationships whereas primary relationships are more intimate (Turkle, 1996). Accountability and responsibility are not clearly defined in online communities and so this has been shown in online retaliations that often go out of hand.

The internet is an ever evolving social technology which evolves according to social trends. It has created new forms of social capital that need to captured using new forms of measurement. It is also important to note that not all internet use is social; it is also used to gather and disseminate information. This is a function that is not considered when looking into social capital.

The Internet occupies an important place in everyday life, connecting friends and those with similar interests. It is adding on to rather than transforming or diminishing social capital. Although it helps connect distant communities, it also connects local communities. Online communities around a wide variety of topics grow by allowing people to exchange ideas and provide social support (Wellman & Gulia, 1999). The Internet has led to new communication forms, for example, the use of short text messages on mobile phones to increase social contact as it is often used to arrange face-to-face meetings with friends (Katz & Aakhus, 2002). The internet’s effects on society will be important and its effects on social capital may be extensive in the long run.



















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