Zuckerberg on the role of sociology in Facebook’s success

A doctor recommending the liberal arts for pre-med students references Mark Zuckerberg describing Facebook in 2011:

“It’s as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.”

Zuckerberg went further in discussing the social aspects of Facebook:

“One thing that gets blown out of proportion is the emphasis on the individual,” he said. “The success of Facebook is really all about the team that we’ve built. In any company that’s going to be true. One of the things that we’ve focused on is keeping the company as small as possible … Facebook only has around 2,000 people. How do you do that? You make sure that every person you add to your company is really great.”…

On a more positive, social scale, Zuckerberg said the implications of Facebook stretch beyond simple local interactions and into fostering understanding between countries. One of Facebook’s engineers put together a website, peace.facebook.com, which tracks the online relationships between countries, including those that are historically at odds with one another.

Clearly, the sociological incentives are strong for joining Facebook as users are participating without being paid for their personal data. The social network site capitalizes on the human need to be social with the modern twist of having control of what one shares and with whom (though Zuckerberg has suggested in the past that he hopes Facebook opens people up to more sharing with new people).

I still haven’t seen much from sociologists on whether they think Facebook is a positive thing. Some scholars have made their position clear; for example, Sherry Turkle highlights how humans can become emotionally involved with robots and other devices. Given the explosion of new kinds of sociability in social networks, sociologists could be making more hay of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all of the new possibilities. But, perhaps it is (1) difficult to asses these changes so close to their start and (2) the discipline sees much more pressing issues such as race, class, and gender in other areas.

Sociologist receives award in part for one article being cited over 24,000 times

Mark Granovetter’s 1973 article “The Strength of Weak Ties” is a sociological classic and still is cited frequently in top sociology journals (see 2012 data here). This impressive number of citations contributed to the naming of Granovetter as the recipient of an award:

Cited over 24,000 times, Granovetter’s 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties” is a social science classic and a milestone in network theory. Our close friends are strongly in touch with us and each other, he wrote, but our acquaintances – weak ties – are crucial bridges to other densely knit clumps of close friends. The more weak ties we have, the more in touch we are with ideas, fashions, job openings and whatever else is going on in diverse and far-flung communities.

The award honors the late Everett M. Rogers, a former associate dean at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and an influential communication scholar whose Diffusion of Innovation is the second-most cited book in the social sciences.  Presented since 2007 on behalf of USC Annenberg by its Norman Lear Center, the award recognizes outstanding scholars and practitioners whose work has contributed path-breaking insights in areas of Rogers’s legacy.

At the USC Annenberg School on Wednesday, September 18 at 12 noon, Granovetter will present “The Strength of Weak Ties” Revisited.  He will discuss how he came to write it; where it fits in the history of social network analysis; how its argument has held up over the years; and its significance in recent social revolutions, where it’s often been claimed that social networks are at the core of the new political developments.  The event is free and open to the public but RSVP is required. (RSVP is available online at: http://bit.ly/189ayDM)

There is no doubt that being cited over 24,000 times is impressive. Granovetter’s work has been utilized in multiple disciplines and came at the forefront of an explosion of research on social networks and their effects.
At the same time, the press release makes a big deal about citations twice while also highlighting Granovetter’s specific findings. Which is more important in the world of science today: the number of citations, which is a measure of importance, or about the actual findings and how it pushed science forward? This award can contribute to existing debates about the importance of citations as a measure. What exactly do they tell us and should we recognize those who are cited the most?

Sociologist: even the homeless need a phone to access social network sites

Here is an example of how prevalent social networking sites have become: a sociologist argues the homeless need a smart phone to be able to access such sites.

Art Jipson, an associated sociology professor at the University of Dayton, says the homeless may not have a place to live, but the one possession that’s becoming somewhat indispensable is a phone to connect on social networks.

“Our posts become the commercial property of corporations that will do everything possible to generate revenue in the form of value for the company and stockholders rather than for the users,” Jipson said. “But, for homeless users of social media – which is a growing population – the value is for the online community itself, which is very egalitarian.”Jipson’s inspiration for the project came by happenstance. Also a researcher of the sociology of music, Jipson has a weekly radio show on the campus radio station, WUDR. When Jipson asked for one caller’s name and location, he was surprised to find the caller was homeless but has a cell phone. Jipson later contacted the caller and found he used the phone for social media – checking and writing messages on Facebook and Twitter.

He also found Facebook was necessary to solve practical problems — the next meal or a warm place to sleep.

He also found homeless people who are tired of defending the fact they’ve got a cellphone.

This makes sense as access to information and online communities is quite helpful today. The homeless aren’t the only ones who need this these tools: recent studies have shown that some users even have physical withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have their smart phones with them.

I wonder if we could take this further and ask where smart phones or Internet devices rank on the list of necessary items for life today. Water, food, shelter, clothes…and then something that allows you to connect to the Internet? I suppose you need electricity (unless someone invents some endless batteries) before you can have functioning devices…


Majority of young adults “see online slurs as just joking”

A recent survey of teenagers and young adults suggests that they are more tolerant of offensive or pejorative terms in the online realm:

Jaded by the Internet free-for-all, teens and 20-somethings shrug off offensive words and name-calling that would probably appall their parents, teachers or bosses. And an Associated Press-MTV poll shows they don’t worry much about whether the things they tap into their cellphones and laptops could reach a wider audience and get them into trouble.

Seventy-one percent say people are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person, and only about half say they are likely to ask someone using such language online to stop…

But young people who use racist or sexist language are probably offending more people than they realize, even in their own age range. The poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows a significant minority are upset by some pejoratives, especially when they identify with the group being targeted…

But they mostly write off the slurs as jokes or attempts to act cool. Fifty-seven percent say “trying to be funny” is a big reason people use discriminatory language online. About half that many say a big reason is that people “really hold hateful feelings about the group.”…

It’s OK to use discriminatory language within their own circle of friends, 54 percent of young people say, because “I know we don’t mean it.” But if the question is put in a wider context, they lean the other way, saying 51-46 that such language is always wrong.

This would seem to corroborate ideas that anonymity online or comments sections free people up to say things that they wouldn’t say in real life. Perhaps this happens because there is no face-to-face interaction or it is harder to identify people or there are few repercussions. In the end, the sort of signs, verbal or non-verbal cues, that might stop people from saying these things near other people simply don’t exist online.

I would be interested to see more research about this “joking” and how young adults understand it. Humor can be one of the few areas in life where people can address controversial topics with lesser consequences. Of course, there are limits on what is acceptable but this can often vary by context, particularly in peer-driven settings like high school or college where being “cool” means everything. These young adults likely know this intuitively as they wouldn’t use the same terms around parents or adults. Are these young adults then more polite around authority figures and save it all up for online or are they more uncivil in general as some would argue?

For an important issue like racism, does this mean that many in the next generation think being or acting racist is okay as long as they are among friends but is not okay to exhibit in public settings? Is it okay to be racist as long as it is accompanied by a happy emoticon or a j/k?

Knowing that this is a common issue, what is the next step in cutting down on this offensive humor, like we are already seeing in many media sites’ comments sections? And who gets to do the policing – parents, schools, websites?

Americans are coolest nationality according to Badoo.com poll

A new poll from Badoo.com finds that Americans are the coolest nationality:

Social networking site Badoo.com asked 30,000 people across 15 countries to name the coolest nationality and also found that the Spanish were considered the coolest Europeans, Brazilians the coolest Latin Americans and Belgians the globe’s least cool nationality.

“We hear a lot in the media about anti-Americanism,” says Lloyd Price, Badoo’s Director of Marketing. “But we sometimes forget how many people across the world consider Americans seriously cool.”…

“America,” says Price, “boasts the world’s coolest leader, Obama; the coolest rappers, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg; and the coolest man in technology, Steve Jobs of Apple, the man who even made geeks cool.”

Brazilians are ranked the second coolest nationality in the Badoo poll and the coolest Latin Americans, ahead of Mexicans and Argentinians. The Spanish, in third place, are the coolest Europeans.

At least one marketer is happy.

Two thoughts:

1. I would be very hesitant about accepting the results of this poll. If this is a web survey of social network site users, it is probably not very representative of people within these countries. Serious news organizations should report on the methodology and discuss the downsides (and advantages) of this approach when reporting this information. But, if it is an accurate take on social network site users, generally younger, plugged-in populations, perhaps this is exactly what American companies would want to hear.

2. America has military, political, and economic power but this hints at another, less-recognized dimension: cultural power and influence. For better or worse, American values, celebrities, products, and ideas have spread throughout the world. Even if our economic and political power goes into a relative decline, this cultural influence will live on for some time. (A bonus: a Badoo poll from earlier this summer also said Americans are the funniest nationality!)

3. Is being “cool” really something to aspire to as a nation? In an America dominated by celebrity, media, and consumption, it may be hard to know that this is not the primary objective.

(Some background on Badoo.com.)