Reduced Barriers to Social Capital

In “Solving Social Dilemmas” of Here Come Everybody, Shirky focuses on social capital, which he defines as habits of cooperation. When the U.S. was experiencing declining social capital, Heiferman noted “people would take steps to increase their communal participation if someone could make it easy again” (Shirky 194). The Internet did just this by removing barriers such as social approval or disapproval and allowing people a place to gather together.

Rheingold reiterates this idea in Technologies of Cooperation where Smith notes “whenever a communication medium lowers the cost of solving collective action dilemmas, it becomes possible for more people to pool resources” (Rheingold 31). The Internet makes it easy for people to find others who share the same interests allowing for more people to gather and exchange information. Rheingold emphasizes another of Smith’s remarks where he says the reason people continue to share information on virtual communities is due to the fact that people can put in a little information and take out more information than they put in.  Due to this, Shirky points out that the people most engaged and motivated can create a place where the less motivated people can participate without becoming activists resulting in a mutual gain. However, this can allow both good and bad groups to form and exchange information.

While the allowance of groups to form more easily on the Internet fosters communication between individuals that otherwise may not have found each other or felt comfortable enough to express their ideas or concerns in other mediums, does the advantages associated with this ease outweigh the negatives? Also, should forums that constitute social disapproval in the real world be banned or shut down on the Internet like the Pro-Ana conversation was shut down on YM’s page? Or should these groups be allowed to converse online due to their rights of free speech? In addition, could these groups that gather around topics of social disapproval in the real world be used as a way to speak to this group as a whole against the topic or ways to provide help? Couldn’t it be true that people who would like to help these Pro-Ana girls post in the conversations as well and the result be that they reach a large number of people affected at once?

There are many ways to look at these groups and the way in which you view them will determine if you find them as positive or negative outlets.

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