In his book Here Comes Everybody, Shirky theorizes that increased Internet use leads to a greater social capital and collective action. With the increased prevalence of social networking sites, many wondered how this new ability to access instant information at such a rapid pace might impact this relationship. In Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Social Capital, Pasek, More, and Romer investigate just that: the relationship between SNS use and social capital. They find that SNS use positively correlated to the indicators of social capital, civic engagement and political knowledge. While these findings are very impressive, are they necessarily positive? An important point that Karpf makes in his article Measuring the Success of Digital Campaigns, is that since several sites require subscription (“following” on Twitter and “friend-ing” on Facebook) many of the messages that circulate stay within a realm of people that often share similar views. One is less likely to follow someone on Twitter with whom they strongly disagree with than for instance a politician whom they adore.
Though Pasek correlated SNS use to an increased amount of social capital, specifically in civil engagement and political knowledge, just because users are more “knowledgeable” this does not imply that the information they are getting is necessarily the truth or unbiased. Certainly, access to unbiased political information is not a difficulty only in the SNS world, but is prominent in other media such as television or newspapers. However, it is still important to realize that just because users are gaining knowledge, this does not mean that voters, for instance, are making informed decisions. I might hypothesize, in fact, that SNS users are less likely to make individualized, informed decisions regarding politics due to their constant access to the opinions of their friends and a specific group with whom they interact online.
An important term to reference is William Whyte’s “groupthink.” In Irving Janis’ article Group Think, she describes the term best in saying “the more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of…a in-group, the greater the danger that independent and critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions…” While Glaisyer investigates the power of the government in closed communities to impact users, perhaps the debilitating force is much closer than we thought, in our own online social circles. As Pasek, More, and Romer point to the fact that nearly 60% of 14- to 22-year olds report using some social networking site, is our generation at the greatest risk?