The Social Capital Divide in MySpace

social capital divide

Researchers found evidence for a social capital divide on My Space based on age. They did a study of user profiles among teenagers and older users of MySpace. MySpace is one of many online social networking site, but one of the largest.

These are the age differences in online social networking between teenagers and older users of MySpace:

  • Teenagers tend to have more friends than older people on MySpace.
  • Most of the friends of teenage MySpace users were of a similar age (±2 years), whereas older MySpace users tend to have friends from age groups outside their own age.
  • Younger people have larger social networks
  • Older people have access to a more diverse network compared to teenagers
  • Teenagers’ social capital on MySpace consists of many weak and strong ties to peers that they know from offline activities
  • Older peoples’ social capital, in contrast consists of less relations to a more diverse group of people
  • Teenagers connect to both close friends as well as loose acquaintances in MySpace
  • Older people tend to be more careful and selective when choosing their friends on MySpace and only want to add to their friends list people that they know very well
  • Teenagers make more use of different media (e.g. music and videos) on their profile pages when compared to older MySpace users.
  • Teenagers receive on average almost ten times as many comments as do older people
  • Both female teenagers and older women receive more comments than the male counterpart of their age group
  • Blogs on MySpace are much more used by teenagers compared to older people, and females are more likely to use blogs than males for both of the groups
  • Older people are more reluctant to make use of additional features, like music, videos and the exchange of comments.
  • Teens use more self-references, negative emotions and overall cognitive words than do older people
  • Teenagers use more self-references in their self-descriptions than older people
  • Older people use more articles and big words than teenagers.
  • Older people tend to represent themselves in a more formal and official way compared to teenagers.
  • Teenagers tend to not only write in a more informal way, but also focus more on themselves and their emotions when representing themselves

What is social capital?
Social capital is described as the resources that are created in social networks and relationships between people and that have a certain value or benefit for individuals participating in this network/relationships. Social capital is created through interactions with others, thus it belongs to a group of people and not to individuals.

Social capital theory distinguishes between two types of social capital: bridging social capital and bonding social capital (Putnam, 2000). Bridging social capital refers to loose connections between individuals. Often, people can provide each other with new information and input via these connections; however, they are not described as being very personal or emotional. ‘Weak ties” – connections that often exist in large quantities for a person but do not describe a very close relationship.

Bonding social capital, on the contrast, describes close relationships in which emotional support is exchanged. It describes the relationships we might have with very close friends or family members. Bonding social capital can be compared to ‘‘strong ties”.

What is social capital divide?

Social Capital Divide To avoid a social capital divide it is crucial to ensure that Social Networking Sites are universally accessible and people of all ages can benefit from them. The importance of social capital lies in the benefit of social support and integration and social cohesion among people.

Why is this research important?

With this knowledge programmers and designers can adapt their social network sites so it will be used by teenagers and elderly. They can adapt it in a way that elderly as well as teenagers can easily access and use the site, so they can become true social network sites. Or should the social network sites be divided in sites for teenagers and others for the elderly? What do you think.

What did they do to investigate the social capital divide?

In order to investigate these issues, we collected a large number of profile pages from with the use of web crawlers we built. To identify age differences, we compared the behaviour and representation of two user groups in MySpace: teenagers (aged 13–19) and older people (aged 60+). In investigating these two groups, we can identify the unique behaviours of each of the two target populations as well as identify and analyse any age differences in their behaviour and in the way that they expand and maintain social capital in this setting.

Why should the elderly use Social Networking Sites?

  • Older people spend most of their online time communicating with others via email indicating
    that social interaction is a prevalent activity of this target population in online environments.
  • The increased social interaction of older people in online environments has a positive effect on their perceived quality of life and well-being
  • It provides them with the possibility to both receive, but also give information and support to other people
  • Older people value having diverse relationships (with people from a variety of ages, locations, cultures, etc.) and reciprocate relationships in which the support is exchanged in both ways.
  • Older people are also to search for health information on the web and stay current with news and events
  • Older people perceive the exchange of experiences and support in online communities as very beneficial and valuable
  • The communication is in a written form as it gives them more time to construct and think about what they want to write more thoroughly.
U PFEIL, R ARJAN, P ZAPHIRIS (2008). Age differences in online social networking – A study of user profiles and the social capital divide among teenagers and older users in MySpace Computers in Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2008.08.015