Internet Use and Social Capital – The Strength of Virtual Ties

This paper aims to understand how Internet users may improve their social capital by investing in online social activities. We argue that the Internet can be a convenient and efficient means of maintaining existing social ties and/or of creating new ties. We seek to identify the determinants of online investments in social capital and the nature of the interaction with traditional forms of investment in social capital. Using a Luxembourg household survey, the econometric results reveal a significant positive impact of volunteer activities and trust (two measures of social capital) on online investments to maintain social capital, but more ambiguous results are found between online investments and face-to-face contacts with friends. By contrast, online investments to create new ties are poorly related to the Internet users’ existing social capital, but depend on the opportunity cost of time. A final aspect of our research that deserves further investigation is how online investments in  social capital pass into collective social capital and whether all forms of individual online investments yield positive externalities for society. In other words, as social capital is increasingly composed of virtual social capital, does society become more or less innovative and reactive, and more or less cohesive and cooperative?

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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