The Paradox of Social Networking: Isolated in a Sea of Connections
With the proliferation of social networking sites globally and the continual pace of innovation on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and a myriad of other sites, it is common for people to belong to five or more of these sites. In addition, the number of acquaintances listed on Facebook may number in the hundreds, possibly even the thousands. On LinkedIn it is common to find professionals with over 600 professional contacts yet without any recommendations or sign of interaction whatsoever (Koch, Gonzalez, Leidner, 2012). On Twitter it is common to find people with tens of thousands followers yet not actual, meaningful interchange. Social networks reward members for racking up significant numbers of followers while minimizing the value of interactions (Glorieux, 1993). Gamification in the form of badges and other sources of recognition reward loyalty to the site first, and to friends and acquaintances at a much lower priority. This is the paradox of social networks; they provide a very stable platform for communication and collaboration, including real-time sharing of status updates, yet they reward popularity and the focus on self-promotion first (Koch, Gonzalez, Leidner, 2012). The intent of this analysis is to evaluate how the paradox of social networks leads to greater isolation over inclusive, collaborative behaviors as many social networks ironically were designed to achieve (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, Brashears, 2006). This paradox becomes especially visible in the context of professional workplaces where social network structures reflect actual organizational hierarchies (Bennett, Owers, Pitt, Tucker, 2010).
Exploring the Paradox of Social Networks
The meteoric rise of Facebook can be attributed to the loneliness and isolation college students feel when they away from family and friends, in addition to the social isolation of not being included in the most active or desirable groups on a campus. The irony of social networks is that while they were designed to provide for inclusive frameworks to unite a social fabric of an organization or school, in fact they often lead to a Balkanization of social groups, a splintering of interest and status hierarchies over time (Wellman, 2008).
The paradox of extended social networks is their power to reinforce the taxonomies of a given social and cultural series of norms and values over time. This stratification of a group is enforced and strengthened through social networks more than assuaged or broken down (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, Brashears, 2006). The social taxonomy of a given organization therefore can lead to a more exclusionary and limited online membership (Glorieux, 1993). From the very first socialization experiences people have, they develop an innate sense of being included or excluded in a group (Wellman, 2008). Social networks are often used for these exclusion-based approaches to defining the overall hierarchy and open vs. closed groups within a broader organizational structure or hierarchy (Koch, Gonzalez, Leidner, 2012). This is one of the primary approaches used to define relative social status and the relative importance or focus of one given group over another. These combination of factors are amplified with social networks are define the overall sociocultural fabric of an organization, whether than entity is a business, school college or university (Koch, Gonzalez, Leidner, 2012).
Contrary to the highly egalitarian and democratic claims that many of the founders of social networks proclaim, nothing could be further from the truth. There is egalitarianism in a given group or replicated taxonomy of a given organization, and the implied rules of egalitarianism in the group are transferred to the online group via the social network platform (Koch, Gonzalez, Leidner, 2012). Those new to an organization and on the periphery of the social taxonomy, as is the case with so many students who arrive at a new school, must earn their way into the broader taxonomy or social fabric by showing respect and loyalty to norms and values (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, Brashears, 2006). This is one of the primary factors that lead to such a strong level of social isolation on the part of many students who just enter a new school or seek to gain greater friends or influence in a larger social context. They are often ostracized and ignored as they have not earned the right to be heard in the larger group (Wellman,…
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