Does any presence count as good presence?

In Pasek, et. al’s “Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Civic Engagement”, the authors perform research on the hypothesis that “website use induces a site-specific culture that can either encourage or hinder social capital” (Pasek et. al 1).  Findings portrayed that use of social networking sites “may have some ability to encourage social capital” but cannot confirm the social networking relationship with the idea of “virtual community” (Pasek et. al 19).  In Karpf’s “Measuring the Success of Digital Campaigns”, he strives to understand how to measure success in today’s digital world.  He argues that strategic metrics, versus tactical ones, are what help define success, especially when it comes to digital activism.  I might argue, however, that ‘slacktivism’ and tactical methods may still enhance a sense of virtual community and, in turn, “succeed” in building social capital.

Howard Rheingold coined the term ‘virtual community’ and believes that it is based on shared interest and trust, not necessarily shared space.  Instead of partaking in point-to-point communication, today we live in a time of nodes and edges—broadcast communication.  When one thing is said and evokes reaction from multiple others, that sharing of information is what builds the virtual community and also helps build ones social capital.  I think this, in and of itself, portrays success in the digital world. 

Take Klout, for example.  Social capital is ‘measured’, so to speak, by ones Klout score, which is typically counted based off a person’s activity and ability to garner attraction to his or her social media posts.  But if I were to post the HRC red box profile picture and gain lots of popularity through Likes or Shares on Facebook, my Klout score would still go up because of mine and others’ acts of ‘slacktivism’.  In other words, my ability to gain attraction via numbers, versus physical action, is still rewarded and can be viewed as building my personal social capital.  So when Karpf asks “do these new tactics and platforms make our attempts at political activism any more successful than before?”, I would say that it is a bit difficult to truly unpack the question completely (Karpf 1). 

As we’ve learned, ‘slacktivism’ has its pros and cons so I think that understanding what “Success” means is very important.  From Karpf’s perspective, success means seeing physical action or change to attain a goal.  However to others, as Klout bolsters, success is found in numbers. 

So which is it?  Does building a network and virtual community based on numbers count as successfully building social capital?  Or does success require more than just a Like or Follow?  Or further, perhaps success means that the online presence and popularity translates into offline recognition?

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This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

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