While reading the study by Pasek, More, and Romer, Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Network Meets Offline Social Capital, I kept thinking of the Uses and Gratification Theory, which states that individuals do not just passively consume media, but actively integrate media into their lives by choosing media to meet their needs (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch). Pasek’s study suggests that in order to understand how social networking sites influence social capital, the website’s culture and the relationship between the functions of the site and how individuals use these functions must be taken into account.
This study neither displayed the Internet, and SNSs, as the solution to the collective action dilemma and savior of social capital, nor did it label it as a catastrophe that would diminish relationships and political participation. It simple stated that the measures of social capital depended on the history, functions, and interactions with the website. It also stated that self-selection plays a large role in “determining who joins what site” (17). Meaning that this study cannot determine whether “social networking websites are encouraging civic involvement or whether civically involved youth are simply more likely to join social networking websites” (18). Therefore, it is hard to ignore Pariser’s argument about personalization and selective exposure. If you join the right SNS, which promotes political engagement and strengthens communities, and are actively engaged with that site, social capital may not be at risk. However, with the option of self-selection and the massive amount of information on the Internet, we are bound to filter news to meet our needs – restricting unexpected encounters with perspectives or news that does not meet our interest.
Is it logical to think that if we are wary of the risks of personal filters that we can ensure these SNSs to be beneficial to our social capital? The larger question is, how do we determine the “right” way to use these tools in order to protect social capital and build a stronger democracy?