Monday, December 10, 2012

Implication of Studying Online/ Offline Lives




Picture. Our social networks differ online and offline. 
(from http://blogs.cornell.edu/comm3400tt329/2010/10/17/social-networking-our-favorite-pastime/)

The study of 61 million Facebook users in social influence and political mobilization (Robert M. B., Christopher J. F., Jason J. J., Adam D.I. K., Cameron M., Jaime E. S. & James, H. F. A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature 489, 295-298 (2012)) shows that transmitting behaviors is more likely to happen through close relationships, both online and offline. The indication of interactions between online and offline social networks and behaviors also reminds me of a study I did in 2010.

Our study is about the impacts of social economic factors, age and online participation on web users’ civilized and uncivilized behaviors, in order to understand the Internet mobs and online conflicts. We thirteen researchers analyzed more than 60,000 posts/ comments from 588 users in one of the major Chinese Political online forums named “Kaidi Community- Cat eyes Forum”. The social demographic variables data of each user were selected from an online survey conducted by one of the  forum users.

The study finds that social classes (based on professions) have no significant effect on online civilized behavior, but the specific uncivilized behavior varies with different social classes. Uncivilized behavior increases with ages. It also grows with higher monthly income among online users from middle-class. In addition, online participation (measured by log-on times) does not affect the users’ performance in online discussions.

Both of the studies indicate the mutual influences of people’s online and offline social networks, behaviors and personalities. The indication also shows the complexity and the limitation of studying only on people’s online or offline lives.

Back to the two studies mentioned before, for further research on social influence in voting behaviors, I would suggest a closer look at social demographic factors of the 61 million Facebook users, such as their ages, races, genders and social classes (could be measured by education and professions, both can be obtained on Facebook), and how the different factors affect the transmission on political behaviors via online and offline social networks. For the further study of Chinese internet mobs and online conflicts, the researchers should also consider the online and offline interactions between web users and the effects of these relationships on online personalities and behaviors. 

In the end, social science researches are about to understand humans and their behaviors in the background of the changing environment.

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