Social Capital and Cyberspace

Social capital, as described by Shirky in Chapter 8, is when people interact together, resulting in more earning potential and happiness. This social capital, in today’s technological society, comes in the form of an alternate reality, cyberspace. And although cyberspace is an alternate reality, it is very much a key part of the real world and fosters an environment of interaction. There are pros and cons to these social networking communities. For example, the company Meetup brings together people of similar locations and tastes in certain hobbies and provides a support group to connect with similar people. Rheingold describes this kind of social network capital as a place where people can share what they know, but also gain knowledge from others in return. However, online forums have sprung up promoting negative communities, such as “Pro-Ana” forums, an example of a self-help movement where people motivate each other to starve themselves. Rheingold describes this movement as a sort of cooperation that exists, but probably should not. So, although social network capital can offer people a place to discuss interests and connect with other people, it can also bring about disastrous consequences for a new generation of technology users. In his epilogue, Shirky discusses the advantage that youth has in the technological era, as they are more familiar with the interfaces and can utilize it more easily. The downside of this, however, is that youth are not more vulnerable to negative influences, such as “Pro-Ana” or “Pro-Bulimia” movements. This begs the question, how can society monitor social network capital and manipulate it as to create a positive effect on the younger generation? Should there be consequences for those networking forums that promote negative, or even, illegal behavior? (Such as removal of the forum).

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4 Responses to Social Capital and Cyberspace

  1. liarosen says:

    The question you raise in this post is an interesting one. Is it necessary to eliminate online communities that have potentially negative consequences to participants? Unfortunately, I do not think this issue is purely cut and dry. In terms of illegal activity online, I would argue yes, there should be laws limiting people from engaging in illegal activities as part of an online community. Though it is difficult to patrol such websites, I think it is important that the Internet does not become a free-for-all by allowing law-breaking activities, and illegal acts should be punished. When it comes to behavior that is harmful, but not illegal, per se (such as communities encouraging eating disorders), I don’t think it is possible to limit this interaction and participation. First, these sites, though potentially harmful, can be considered an expression of free speech that cannot be abridged by the government. Additionally, we also have to give individuals a certain amount of credit, allowing them the freedom and opportunity to express themselves and draw their own conclusions. Though the Internet makes the collaboration of these like-minded individuals much easier, it is not the reason for their actions. By making laws against this kind of collaboration, we would be blaming social networks for decisions individuals make on their own. People should be held accountable for their own actions and sites should remain a forum for open expression, as long as it is legal.

  2. remysarhan says:

    I think it will be extremely challenging for society to monitor social network capital and manipulate it to create a positive effect on younger generations. If anything, since absolutely everything can be posted online and viewed by anyone, the ones who should be monitoring what children are viewing are the parents. With freedom of speech, I do not think that social network capital can change that. I do not necessarily think that there should be consequences for those networking forums that promote negative behavior, especially because the words “positive” and “negative” are very opinionated. In terms of illegal behavior, I think that the government could regulate it but it would be very difficult to do this. I believe this is Rheingold’s biggest argument and question.

  3. ksoisson says:

    I brought up a similar point in my post this week as well. As it becomes easier to communicate in a more advanced world, it’s easier to form groups and come together, which can be both for the positive and negative. This obviously then complicates the idea of whether these groups should be monitored. I agree that it would be beneficial to punish those that are performing negative and even illegal activities, but doing so may be difficult. Like we talked about a few classes ago, the government essentially stayed out of regulating the Internet as it developed, leaving it open to a great deal of freedom. It may also be difficult to regulate because the idea of free speech may allow for much of what is going on to technically be acceptable. I like the points you bring up though, especially as social capital continues to grow with the continuous development of cyberspace. This makes it an ever-apparent topic.

  4. maddock35 says:

    Regulating the Internet has proven an extremely frustrating and complicated endeavor. In regards to monitoring sources of social capital, the problem is much the same. There is simply too much information available online to monitor even a small percentage effectively. For groups that have negative goals, like the Pro-ana community mentioned, very little can be done to control their message, short of making very strict Internet regulations and having the government sort through the Internet. I believe the government is the only establishment large enough and with enough resources to effectively monitor the Internet; however, I also believe that to give that much power to the government would be very unwise and greatly limit the growth and potential of the Internet. The only acceptable regulations in this circumstance deal with networking forums that promote illegal behavior. This is a more black and white issue because our laws clearly establish what is and is not legal. Just because an activity is done in cyberspace and not the real world does not make it exempt from normal judicial actions.

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