We often wonder at the true power of social media and, more specifically, what gives it this power? The answer lies in the offline world. Mark Granovetter (1973) argues that weak social ties, those we engage “occasionally” or “rarely,” are our real assets when it comes to the sharing and leveraging of information. Our online world follows suit, but the constraints are far fewer and the possibilities are limitless.
Weak ties are the connections that provide us with information that leads to anything from employment to our next romantic relationship. The irony of this relational rhetoric is that the people we are least connected to become our strongest social capital. Granovetter, himself, argues that those with whom we are weakly tied most likely move in social circles different from our own and have access to different information than we do.
We also see this in Levy’s theory of Collective Intelligence, stating, “None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we can put the pieces together if we pool our resources and combine our skills.” Because of the ease of developing weak ties in social media, in usually just a click, we are opening the channels through which we receive and process information. It is not just that information is more accessible through social media, it is that the breadth of information available is unrivaled by anything in history.
“Weak ties suffer no such restriction, though they are certainly not automatically bridges. What is important, rather, is that all bridges are weak ties.” –Granovetter
Social Media Provides the Bridge over the “Troubled Waters” of Social Norms
One of the beautiful things about the exchange of ideas in the realm of social media is the possibility of anonymity. People who could never imagine speaking out in the physical world can make their ideas and opinions known on the web. The genius introvert suddenly has a willing audience that he can engage and share ideas with, while remaining comfortably secluded. His personality type no longer affects the exportation of his idea, and the weak ties of his network will perpetuate its spread.
Outside of personal issues, we have more pressing discrimination against social constructs such as race, gender, and culture that can be circumvented within the framework of social media. Patriarchal societies are seeing a rise in female idealists who can now contribute to academic circles without fear of reprimand. The social constructs and structures that prevent the forming of weak ties in the real world are not present in the web space. This increases the ease of collaboration and unification toward common goals. Weak ties proliferate the spread of complex ideas over a broader web than previously possible.
“”Intuitively speaking, this means that whatever is to be diffused can reach a larger number of people, and traverse greater social distance (i.e. path length) when passed through weak ties rather than strong.” – Granovetter
Will time show the weak ties formed online to be as high in profitability and leveragability in regards to social capital as the real world relationships they are modeled after?
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