“fans” of political candidates
or causes; thus we may learn
that a colleague we respect is a
fan of a political candidate we
oppose. The inclusion of political views in site profiles allows
users to be exposed to differing
viewpoints, potentially increasing discourse and even tolerance among those with opposing ideas.
findings apply to other groups
or what kinds of features best
support these needs.
• How can the mobilizing power of social network
sites increase community and
political engagement, especially
among traditionally disenfranchised groups? As social network sites are adopted by broader segments of society, how will
usage practices, risks, and benefits change? As highlighted by
survey work by Eszter Hargattai
[ 6], choice of social network site
is influenced by cultural and
socio-economic factors, which
may limit individuals’ opportunities to interact with those
from different backgrounds. Are
all SNS users getting the same
benefits from their use? How
can we overcome these barriers, or at least minimize their
For designers and creators
of these systems, these questions highlight the need to
better understand how they
must adapt in order to support
diverse populations and goals.
In the simplest case, these adaptations could mean revising
profile categories to better align
with different cultural contexts
(e.g., shielding work colleagues
from identity information such
as sexual orientation).
We do not mean to suggest
that all social network site
activity is positive. Personal
information about others may
be used to broker productive
interaction, but it could also
reinforce existing stereotypes,
making them more intractable.
Personal information may be
misused by marketing agents
or used for nefarious purposes
such as stalking, bullying, and
identity theft. But overall we
are hopeful that the technical
and social affordances of these
sites may contribute to positive
social outcomes by enabling
individuals to talk, act, and
connect with diverse strangers,
acquaintances, and friends.
Evolving Use and
the Need for New Research
Overall, we believe that the
potential for positive social outcomes is great. Clearly, by any
measure, social network sites
are changing the way we form
and maintain our relationships
with others, with demonstrable
benefits. As they evolve and
spread, we expect network
effects to occur and their social
utility to increase. Many questions remain, however, for
researchers, designers, and
• How can the power of social
network sites be leveraged in
other contexts, including formal
organizations? Research on corporate social network sites, like
IBM’s internal SNS Beehive, suggests that users welcome learning more about their colleagues’
lives, and that this information
is used to facilitate social interactions that directly and indirectly support job-related tasks.
• How can social network
sites support individuals as they
make life transitions, such as
moving to a new city or starting a new job? Our research on
Facebook suggests that such
sites can help students maintain
past connections and initiate
new relationships during their
transition to college, but we
don’t yet understand how these
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Nicole Ellison is an assistant professor in the
department of telecommunication, information studies, and media at
Michigan State University. Her research
explores issues of self-presentation, relationship development, and identity in
online environments such as online dating
services and social network sites.
Currently, she is exploring the social capital implications of Facebook use, educational applications of SNSs, and the nature
of “friends” online. Nicole received her
Ph.D. in communication theory and
research from the Annenberg School for
Communication at USC.
Charles Steinfield is a professor and chair in the
department of telecommunication, information studies, and media at Michigan
State University. His
research interests include the uses of
online social networks, individual and organizational collaboration via ICT, and e-com-merce. He is currently pursuing projects on
social capital and online SNS use, collective action and the diffusion of information
technology standards, and ICT use in
knowledge-oriented business clusters.
Cliff Lampe is an assistant
professor in the department of telecommunication, information studies,
and media at Michigan
State University. His Ph.D.
is from the School of Information at the
University of Michigan. He studies social
interactions in online environments, including Facebook, Slashdot, Everything2, and
SourceForge. In particular, he’s interested
in the use of information technology to support collective action.
[ 6] Hargattai, E.
Users and Non-Users
of Social Network
Sites.” Journal of
Communication 13, no.
1 (2007). <http://jcmc.
January + February 2009
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