Social Influence Through Social Media: Not!

Online social networks are an unprecedentedly rich source of material for psychologists, social scientists and observers of human behavior. Now a recent study shows that influence through these networks may not be as powerful or widespread as first thought. The study, “Social Selection and Peer Influence in an Online Social Network,” by Kevin Lewis, Marco Gonzalez and Jason Kaufman is available here.

[div class=attrib]From the Wall Street Journal:[end-div]

Social media gives ordinary people unprecedented power to broadcast their taste in movies, books and film, but for the most part those tastes don’t rub off on other people, a new study of college students finds. Instead, social media appears to strengthen our bonds with people whose tastes already resemble ours.

Researchers followed the Facebook pages and networks of some 1,000 students, at one college, for four years (looking only at public information). The strongest determinant of Facebook friendship was “mere propinquity” — living in the same building, studying the same subject—but people also self-segregated by gender, race, socioeconomic background and place of origin.

When it came to culture, researchers used an algorithm to identify taste “clusters” within the categories of music, movies, and books. They learned that fans of “lite/classic rock”* and “classical/jazz” were significantly more likely than chance would predict to form and maintain friendships, as were devotees of films featuring “dark satire” or “raunchy comedy / gore.” But this was the case for no other music or film genre — and for no books.

What’s more, “jazz/classical” was the only taste to spread from people who possessed it to those who lacked it. The researchers suggest that this is because liking jazz and classical music serves as a class marker, one that college-age people want to acquire. (I’d prefer to believe that they adopt those tastes on aesthetic grounds, but who knows?) “Indie/alt” music, in fact, was the opposite of contagious: People whose friends liked that style music tended to drop that preference themselves, over time.

[div class=attrib]Read the entire article here.[end-div]