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Article
Patching the Melting Pot:
Sociability in Facebook Groups
for Engagement, Trust,
and Perceptions of Difference
Social Science Computer Review
2019, Vol. 37(5) 611-630
ª The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/0894439318791241
journals.sagepub.com/home/ssc
Brandon C. Bouchillon1
Abstract
The more racial or ethnic diversity a person lives around in America, the less likely they are to take
part in civic life, or to profess feelings of trust for the average person. Differences have instead
become reasons to pull back, prompting a mass erosion of social capital, by undermining social
contact. The present study moves the conversation online, to the Facebook group setting in particular, as a means of highlighting shared interests while downplaying other differences at first.
Results of a national web survey (N ¼ 1,005) indicate the use of Facebook groups for meeting new
people relates to civic participation, along with added weak-tie discussions, which spill over to
participation again indirectly. Sociability use of Facebook groups is also a source of bridging social
capital, or having more active weak ties upon which to draw, and this contributes to trusting in
people. Localized diversity becomes a reason to trust as well, but only for sociable Facebook group
users. Less sociable users still mistrust at the sight of difference, but online social efforts appear to
swing the direction of influence, for converting neighborhood-level racial and ethnic diversity into
trust.
Keywords
sociability, Facebook groups, social capital, uses and grats, generalized trust, civic engagement
The United States now finds itself diversifying rapidly (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017; Van Hook &
Lee, 2017), home to one-fifth of the world’s immigrant population, some 48 million people (Pew
Research, 2018).1 Fifteen percent of Americans are foreign-born (Huth, 2018; United Nations,
2017), with immigrants and their children together comprising 27% of the populace (Zong, Batalova, & Hallock, 2018). And over the next 50 years, new immigrants and their offspring are expected
to account for 88% of U.S. population growth (Passel & Cohn, 2017; Pew Research, 2017). Whites
become a minority around 2045 (Frey, 2018; U.S. Census Bureau, 2018).
1
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brandon C. Bouchillon, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA.
Email: bbouchillon@gmail.com
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Social Science Computer Review 37(5)
In the face of these changing demographics, America’s reputation as a melting pot appears little
more than mythology (Tocqueville, 1969). Once racial or ethnic diversity moves into a given
neighborhood, residents withdraw (Costa & Kahn, 2003; Hewstone, 2015; Neal, 2017). They
“hunker down” (Putnam, 2007, p. 137), pulling out of civic life and mistrusting more generally
(Cortright, 2015; Dinesen & Sønderskov, 2018; Kesler & Bloemraad, 2010). Differences instead
evoke threat, or feelings of being in direct competition with new and diverse others for life chances
(Oliver & Wong, 2003), which are driven by Whites fearful of living among minority groups
(Abascal & Baldassarri, 2015). This is ironic, given their own pending minority status, and the fact
that diverse social contact is actually a key source of social capital. It adds to personal connections,
who contribute to beneficial outcomes like engagement and trust (Burt, 1992; Coleman, 1988;
Granovetter, 1973). Except that perceived differences, and the feelings of threat these elicit, mostly
prevent the requisite contact from occurring, and social capital from forming (Abascal & Baldassari,
2015; Dinesen & Sønderskov, 2018).
As a foothold for sociality in a country long devoid of it, social networking sites show potential
for addressing the American decline in social capital. On Facebook, for example, the world’s most
popular social networking site (Richter, 2018), “People You May Know” are suggested, while
groups on the site allow users to rally around common interests or concerns (Donath & boyd,
2004). This can encourage the formation of “affiliative” ties—new social connections who share
an affinity, but still differ in a range of other ways (e.g., race and ethnicity; Flanagin, Stohl, &
Bimber, 2006, p. 35). By softening these differences at first, through the use of small, optional
profile pictures, contrasts feel less salient on the site (Donath & boyd, 2004; Ellison & boyd, 2013).
This streamlines the process of weak-tie activation (Ellison, Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014), with
group topics as easy icebreakers.
So despite fears that digital settings would usher in new ways of hunkering down (Putnam, 1995),
assuming Facebook groups act as a haven for weaker, more affiliative ties to connect, efforts of
sociability they host should relate to increased civic engagement and generalized trust (Gil de
Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011; Glanville, Andersson, & Paxton, 2013; Putnam, 2000). I further ask
whether this use of Facebook groups for meeting new people might alter user perceptions of
difference more generally, as the start of social learning (Greenhow & Robelia, 2009), for conveying
the “strength of weak ties” first in the absence of threat online (Granovetter, 1973; Spitzberg, 2012).
Even as interactions move offline, and differences come to light, these should matter less, given past
benefits, as the rewards of trusting in a wider range of people gradually overcome perceived risks
(Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017; Glanville et al., 2013). Results suggest that digital groups are indeed
well positioned to address the threat dynamic in this way, for improving the way users think about
diversity, even in their neighborhoods, and whether they trust in the face of it.
The Self-Undermining Virtuous Circle
To accumulate social capital, a measure of personal network and resource diversity, requires an
“unceasing effort of sociability,” one that take times and energy (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 52). Americans
historically had been up to the task, as citizens said to be “forever forming associations” (Tocqueville, 1969, p. 513), both engaged civically and trusting socially. But empirically, this hasn’t been
true for the better part of a century, where national levels of trust and civic engagement first began to
slip in the 1960s, with losses in one reinforcing declines in the other (Paxton, 2007; Putnam, 2000).
In the absence of trust, citizens feel less motivated to work together, so engagement suffers (Uslaner
& Brown, 2005); and by neglecting to engage, they interact less, so feelings of trust struggle to
develop (Putnam, 2007; Stolle, 1998).
As to what kicked off the downward spiral, Putnam (1995) famously blamed television, suggesting the medium displaced time spent engaging in the community. He spoke of changing social norms
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613
as well, with the dutiful civic generation dying off, replaced by younger Americans who engage less,
or do so in nontraditional ways (Putnam, 2000). But his most durable explanation for the decline of
social capital has been the steady influx of diversity stateside, where residents of diverse neighborhoods trust less in the average person and in people like themselves (Putnam, 2007). Mistrust
becomes standard operating procedure, both limiting interactions and shuttering engagements, as
whole communities hunker down (Alesina & La Ferrara, 2002; Cortright, 2015; Costa & Kahn,
2003; Putnam, 2007).
A New Media Solution
If diverse social contact is vital for social capital, perceived differences are what give us pause (Dinesen
& Sønderskov, 2018). It follows that by downplaying these differences at first, digital settings might here
offer an advantage. Facebook shows a utility for the activation of weak ties in particular (De Meo,
Ferrara, Fiumara, & Provetti, 2014; Kwon, D’Angelo, & McLeod, 2013; Steinfeld, Ellison, & Lampe,
2008), who can differ in a range of ways, often in terms of race or ethnicity, but also in regards to lifestyle,
religion, or politics (Burt, 1992; Granovetter, 1983). The Facebook setting allows them to focus more on
the substance of the interaction, and less on demographics (Donath & boyd, 2004; Ellison & boyd,
2013), while giving users control over who can access their profile (Bartsch & Dienlin, 2016). This
makes them feel more comfortable expressing their views (Valkenburg & Peter, 2011), for interacting
with “known as well as unknown others” (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017, p. 302), as efforts that pay social
capital dividends, like new chances to engage locally (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011).
Sociability tops the list of reasons why users get involved with groups on Facebook (Park, Kee, &
Valenzuela, 2009), where “for every cause there is a community online” (Thorson, Gotlieb, &
Bouchillon, 2014, p. 6). Overlapping interests ease the formation of weak-tie connections therein
(Flanagin et al., 2006), helping to facilitate recruitment into civic life (Boulianne, 2015; Conroy,
Feezell, & Guerrero, 2012; Kahne, Lee, & Feezell, 2012). Teens and twenty–somethings are especially
likely to adapt these participatory ideals (Kahne & Middaugh, 2012), joining civic groups locally after
first doing so online. But motivations for using sites like Facebook can vary wildly from one user to the
next, which serves to “morph” the experience, and “influence the type of social capital generated by
Facebook use” (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2011, p. 18). The present study thus elects to focus on
sociability use of Facebook groups for meeting new people, as efforts thought to contribute to localized
civic participation, through exposure to new information and opportunities (Bourdieu, 1986).2
Hypothesis 1: Facebook group sociability will have a positive association with civic
participation.
The Strength of Weak Ties for Civic Life
“The greater variety of social interactions a communicator encounters or observes, the more likely
he or she is to develop an action plan that is appropriate to accomplish his or her goal or goals in
each” (Canary, Cody, & Manusov, 2008, p. 505). Reaching desirable outcomes by way of social
contact is thus partially a function of the work one puts in, the wealth of experience they accumulate,
and practice makes perfect in this regard. Repeated interactions improve the knowledge and skill
with which one interacts, along with their motivation for doing so (Canary et al., 2008; Spitzberg,
2012), efforts that over time cultivate more adaptable, efficacious communicators, those driven to
interact (Spitzberg, 2000; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984).
In past study, sociable Facebook users were in more frequent, meaningful contact with weak ties
everywhere (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017), converting interactions with them into higher levels of
civic engagement, compared to less social users (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017; Yu, Tian, Vogel, &
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Social Science Computer Review 37(5)
Kwok, 2010). This speaks to an increase in competence, namely the motivation to interact with weak
ties specifically, along with effectiveness at doing so. Because before committing to a given interaction, people think about what they stand to gain (Bandura, 1997), and the more an interaction type has
led into positive reinforcements in the past, the stronger one’s expectancy becomes that it will do so
again in the future (Rotter, 1966). So as a way of communicating the benefits of weak-tie connections,
while subtly improving one’s ability to tap into them, I expect efforts of sociability in Facebook groups
to incentivize weak-tie contact everywhere (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017). Any increase in weak-tie
discussion from social use of these groups should indirectly contribute to civic participation.
Hypothesis 2: Facebook group sociability will relate to civic participation indirectly, through a
positive association with weak-tie discussion.
Generalizable Feelings of Trust
Weak-tie interactions provide new opportunities to participate in local life (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011), but resulting social connections matter more for learning how to trust in people
(Glanville et al., 2013; Stolle & Harell, 2013). Because prejudice dissolves and trust emerges when
different kinds of people connect (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008; Stolle, Soroka, & Johnston, 2008), and
there exist optimum conditions under which the formative contact should occur.3 These include
equal status, common goals, cooperation, and support (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2000), criteria that
Facebook groups would appear to meet, at least in part. The shared interests that underlie these
groups naturally come with some common goals (Flanagin et al., 2006), and although cooperation
isn’t a given, through efforts of sociability it might be. Users can work together toward any number
of ends, and the site itself provides structural support, allowing group members to flag posts and
even ban other members if necessary (Baborska-Narozny, Stirling, & Stevenson, 2017). These
affordances set the stage for gains in trust to occur (Allport, 1954; Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017),
by closely approximating the “optimum” conditions for social contact. As such, I expect efforts of
sociability in Facebook groups to contribute to faith in people more generally, by helping them to
connect under idealized conditions.
Hypothesis 3: Facebook group sociability will have a positive association with generalized trust.
Bridging for Trust
New media cater to the construction of weak ties in a number of ways: by hosting interactions, easing
perceptions of difference, and “by laying an infrastructure of latent ties (ones that exist technically but
have not yet been activated)” (Haythornthwaite, 2002, p. 1). With the rise of social networking sites,
access to latent ties has increased exponentially (Flanagin et al., 2006), where shared interests can now
be used to trigger interactions with otherwise complete strangers (Ellison, Steinfeld, & Lampe, 2011),
for adding them to personal networks. Doing so contributes to bridging social capital (Steinfeld et al.,
2008), a measure of active weak ties, along with the resources accessible through them (Williams,
2006), and bridging is a source of generalized trust in past study (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017). The
inclusion of newer, weaker ties into a personal network contributes to feeling more optimistic about the
average person’s trustworthiness (Glanville et al., 2013).4
As a site for the formation of these bridging social connections, meeting people on Facebook
could offer at least one more way of replenishing social capital. In groups especially, members
develop expectations of other members, that when met, contribute to perceived growth in a personal
network (Ellison et al., 2011; Lee & Lee, 2010). Feelings of trust in the average person should
expand as a result (Warren, Sulaiman, & Jaafar, 2015), through the perception of being connected to
a wider range of people (Glanville et al., 2013; Kwon et al., 2013; Uslaner, 2002a), as Internet
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615
connections “tend to develop closeness and intimacy more quickly than do real-life relationships”
(McKenna, Green, & Gleason, 2002, p. 20). Because of this, I expect efforts of sociability in
Facebook groups to contribute to generalized trust indirectly, through an increase in bridging social
capital, weak-tie gains that reflect kindly on the average person.
Hypothesis 4: Facebook group sociability will relate to generalized trust indirectly, through a
positive association with bridging social capital.
Trusting and Perceptions of Difference
For improving the way people think about diversity, Spitzberg (2006) suggested that digital interactions could supplement interpersonal contact. Telecommunication between diverse individuals
feels real enough to lead into perspective-taking (Yu et al., 2010); and the wider range of technologies they use, the greater returns to intercultural competency they enjoy (O’Dowd, 2007, p. 146).
Chatting on Facebook tells a similar story, a usage that relates to showing greater empathetic
concern (Alloway, Runac, Quershi, & Kemp, 2014), while providing users with new ways of
demonstrating it—liking, messaging, video chatting, even using emojis (Carrier, Spradlin, Bunce,
& Rosen, 2015). These efforts quickly become contagious as well, where empathizing online relates
to showing empathy off-line (Carrier et al., 2015). Facebook users are more considerate of the
thoughts and feelings of others everywhere (Vossen & Valkenburg, 2016).
But the drawbacks of social media use are by now painfully clear as well, with social networking
in general linked to depression (Lin et al., 2016), and Facebook use in particular eroding life
satisfaction and cognitive well-being over time (Ginsberg & Burke, 2017; Kross et al., 2013;
Tromholt, 2016). Liking posts and pictures on the site works to undermine self-perception, making
one’s own life seem worse by comparison (Wright, White, & Obst, 2018). It can also limit exposure
to diverse opinions (Bakshy, Messing, & Adamic, 2015), which is true of the group setting as well,
where bigots and racists can meet on the basis of “shared interests” (Bouchillon, 2014; Kaakinen,
Oksanen, & Rasanen, 2018).
Drawbacks aside, recall that outcomes of Facebook use are again highly contingent on how users
engage with the site (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2011), and the use of social networking sites (SNS)
to meet new people still contributes to beneficial measures like empathy and tolerance (Angelova &
Zhao, 2014; Ciftci, 2016; Mollov, 2006). So as the most likely place to find these efforts on the
world’s most popular SNS, Facebook groups might offer a solution to the original problem, one of
diversity’s negative impact on trust locally (Park et al., 2009; Richter, 2018).
I thus ask whether sociability use of Facebook groups for meeting new people could mitigate the
tendency for diversity to undermine trust at the neighborhood level—whether sociable members of
these groups learn to trust at the sight of racial and ethnic differences, in light of positive experiences
they accumulate online, and intercultural competencies these help them acquire. If so, the digitalgroup setting could play a role in changing the way users look at diversity, for beginning the process
of reconnecting the populace, even locally.
Research Question 1: Does Facebook group sociability moderate any association between
neighborhood diversity and generalized trust?
Method
Sample
To address the aforementioned hypotheses and research question, data from a national web survey of
U.S. adults collected through Survey Sampling International (SSI) in January 2014 were used. SSI
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Social Science Computer Review 37(5)
Table 1. Comparison of Sample and U.S. Population Characteristics.
Model
Women
Men
White
White (non-Hispanic)
Black
Asian
American Indian
Pacific Islander
Biracial
Hispanic
18–29 years old
30–39 years old
40–49 years old
50–59 years old
60þ years old
Northeasterners
Midwesterners
Southerners
Westerners
Sample (%)
United States (%)
51.1
48.9
77.5
62.7
12.9
5.1
1.0
0.19
1.3
17.3
21.9
16.5
18.7
17.3
23.6
17.3
22.8
36.1
22.8
50.8
49.2
77.9
63
13.1
5.1
1.2
0.2
2.4
16.9
22.1
17.3
18.8
17.9
23.9
17.9
21.7
37.1
23.3
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2010a, 2010b, 2012).
recruits respondents from multiple places, including survey panels, social media, and various
websites, and those who respond to recruitment are asked to complete a short set of demographic questions. This allows SSI to approximate a representative sample of the target population across a range of variables. Compensation varies according to the length and focus of
the survey but can include incentives like cash, prizes, and charitable donations see European
Society for Opinion and Market Research, 2012 (ESOMAR 2012).
This process was used to generate a sample of U.S. adults matched to U.S. population
estimates for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and region (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010a, 2010b, 2012).
Those invited to take the survey were linked to an online questionnaire, hosted in Qualtrics,
where just over 1,000 (N ¼ 1,005) usable responses were recorded (Table 1).
Dependent Variables
Civic participation. Fifteen items were drawn from Son and Lin (2008) and the General Social Survey
(Smith, Marsden, Hout, & Kim, 2008) to construct an index of active memberships in a wide range
of civic groups. Membership in each group was reported on a 3-point scale (0 ¼ no involvement, 1 ¼
I participated when I could, or 2 ¼ I was actively involved). Responses were summed to form the
additive index (Cronbach’s a ¼ .83, M ¼ 3.19, SD ¼ 4.00).
Generalized trust. Three items were used from previous study (Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009) to
assess individual levels of trust in the average person (Cronbach’s a ¼ .82, M ¼ 3.45, SD ¼ 0.69).
They asked, “Generally speaking: (a) Would you say that people can be trusted (Rosenberg, 1957),
(b) People try to be fair, and (c) People try to be helpful?” (Valenzuela et al., 2009). Responses were
drawn on a 5-point scale (1 ¼ strongly disagree; 5 ¼ strongly agree).
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617
Mediating Variables
Weak-tie discussion. Six items were used to measure frequency of interpersonal discussion with
coworkers and acquaintances (Cronbach’s a ¼ .91, M ¼ 2.42, SD ¼ 1.39; Gil de Zúñiga &
Valenzuela, 2011). Responses fell on a 7-point scale (1 ¼ never talked, 7 ¼ talked multiple times
a day).
Perceived access to bridging social capital. Five items from Williams (2006) were used to measure
perceived access to bridging social capital (Cronbach’s a ¼ .85, M ¼ 3.64, SD ¼ 0.72). Responses
fell on a 5-point scale (1 ¼ strongly disagree, 5 ¼ strongly agree).
Independent Variable
Facebook group sociability. Three items were drawn from previous study (Park et al., 2009) and three
more were developed to capture motivated use of Facebook groups for connecting with new and
different people. Respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the following along the same
5-point scale: “I join and interact with specific groups on Facebook: (a) to get peer support from
others, (b) to feel like part of a community, (c) to keep in touch with people I know (Park et al.,
2009), (d) to meet new and different people, (e) to talk about things with different people, and (f) to
meet people like me who share my interests.” Item (c) was dropped to improve reliability, and the
other items were combined to create the index for Facebook group sociability (Cronbach’s a ¼ .91,
M ¼ 3.12, SD ¼ 1.008).
Control Variables
Demographics. Demographic variables used to build this survey included age (M ¼ 45.56, SD ¼
16.26), sex (51.1% female), race (77.5% White), ethnicity (17.3% Hispanic), and region of residence
(36.1% Southern). Other potentially confounding influences were also controlled for, as detailed
below.
Annual household income. This item was drawn from the General Social Survey (Smith et al., 2008),
with responses ranging from less than $15,000 to $200,000 or more (M ¼ $61,970.83; Mdn ¼
$44,999; SD ¼ 46,704.44).
Educational attainment. Respondents were asked about the highest level of education they had completed thus far, and responses fell on a 9-point scale (M ¼ 7.0, Mdn ¼ some college, SD ¼ 1.67).
About 13.5% were high school graduates, 25.4% had bachelor’s degrees, and another 14.5% held
postgraduate or professional degrees.
Neighborhood diversity. This item came from the U.S. Citizenship, Involvement, and Democracy
Survey (Howard, Gibson, & Stolle, 2006), asking respondents, “Of the people who live in your
neighborhood, how many are a different race or ethnicity than you?” Responses fell on a 9-point
scale: none (0%), almost none (5%), a few (10%), some (25%), about half (50%), many (75%), most
(90%), almost all (95%), and all (100%; M ¼ 2.87, SD ¼ 2.01).
Party ID. Respondents were asked about their political party affiliation (Weisberg, 1999), with the
sample comprising 234 Republicans (23.3%), 297 Independents (29.6%), 378 Democrats (37.6%),
and 95 reporting “Other” as their party of choice (9.5%).
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Social Science Computer Review 37(5)
Perceived access to bonding social capital. Five items were used to account for perceived access to
bonding social capital (Williams, 2006), as an index of active strong ties (Cronbach’s a ¼ .87, M ¼
3.76, SD ¼ 0.85). Responses fell on a 5-point scale (1 ¼ strongly disagree, 5 ¼ strongly agree).
Particularized trust. Five items were used to gauge trust in similar, proven others. Responses fell on
the same 5-point scale (Cronbach’s a ¼ .77, M ¼ 3.94, SD ¼ 0.61).
Intensity of Facebook use. Six items were used to measure a respondent’s number of Facebook friends,
how much time they spent on the site, and its importance in their daily life (Ellison, Steinfeld, &
Lampe, 2007). These were standardized and combined to create the index for intensity of Facebook
use (Cronbach’s a ¼ .88, SD ¼ 0.79).
Time spent using Facebook groups. One final item was included to account for time spent in Facebook
groups, asking respondents, “On a typical day, how much time do you spend reading and posting to
various groups on Facebook?” Responses fell on a 7-point scale from no time at all to more than 3
hours (M ¼ 2.04, SD ¼ 1.63).
Statistical Techniques
Two multiple regressions were used in SPSS 24 to predict civic participation and generalized trust,
both controlling for demographics (age, sex, race, ethnicity, region, education, income, and party
ID) along with neighborhood diversity and relevant measures of social capital (weak-tie discussion,
bonding/bridging, and generalized/particularized trust). The PROCESS macro (Hayes, 2013) was
used to test for mediating and moderating associations, while the MODPROBE macro (Hayes &
Matthes, 2009) was used to plot the Research Question 1 interaction. The full set of control variables
was utilized throughout.
Multicollinearity between predictor variables was not an issue, as no tolerance values fell below 0.4
and no Variance Inflation Factor (VIF) values rose above 2 (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995).
Kolmogorov–Smirnov tests of normality were admittedly significant though (p < .001), and this can indicate that data are from a nonnormally distributed population. But these tests are highly susceptible to issues of sample size, and nonnormal distributions cease to be a problem in samples this large anyway, due to the central limit theorem (Ghasemi & Zahediasl, 2012). Looking at Q–Q plots indicated linear relationships between the predicted outcomes and sets of regressors, while scatterplots of the standardized residuals with standardized predicted values appeared to be homoscedastic as well. Results Hypothesis 1 predicted that efforts of sociability in Facebook groups would have a positive association with civic participation. The model accounted for 22.2% of the variance in civic participation, R2 ¼ .222, F(18, 620) ¼ 9.81, p < .001, with results indicating that Facebook group sociability was related to taking more active roles in a wider range of civic organizations (b ¼ .162, p < .01). The simple act of spending time in Facebook groups was also a source of civic participation (b ¼ .107, p < .05), while Facebook use was, in general, negatively associated with the same measure (b ¼ .100, p < .05). Facebook group sociability thus contributes to civic participation above and beyond the influence of spending time in groups, and beyond that of using Facebook in general, which is apparently a negative influence. Hypothesis 1 finds support. Sociability use of Facebook groups relates to more active involvement in civic life (Table 2). Hypothesis 2 predicted that Facebook group sociability would relate to civic participation indirectly as well, through an increase in weak-tie discussion. Results of a mediation analysis show that Bouchillon 619 Table 2. Multiple Regression Predicting Civic Participation. Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients Model Constant Female White Hispanic Age Education Income Republican Democrat Southern Neighborhood diverse Weak-tie discuss Bridging Bonding Particularized Generalized Facebook Facebook group Group sociability Correlations B Standard Error b Significance Semipartial 2.369 0.015 0.546 0.646 0.005 0.004 7.973E 6 1.665 0.342 0.418 0.426 0.011 0.118 0.000 .002 .051 .057 .019 .001 .083 .113 .966 .191 .130 .631 .970 .032 .002 .046 .054 .017 .001 .076 0.011 0.657 0.058 0.149 0.899 0.457 0.193 0.521 0.461 0.634 0.314 0.703 0.416 0.364 0.336 0.088 0.125 0.316 0.231 0.294 0.276 0.315 0.135 0.210 .001 .074 .007 .067 .291 .074 .037 .073 .072 .100 .107 .162 .979 .072 .863 .092 .000 .149 .406 .077 .096 .045 .020 .001 .001 .064 .006 .060 .255 .051 .029 .063 .059 .071 .083 .119 Facebook group sociability had a significant total effect on civic participation (b ¼ .201, p < .001). Results further indicate that Facebook group sociability had a significant indirect effect on civic participation as well, through an increase in weak-tie discussion. That is, the use of Facebook groups for meeting new people relates to having more frequent conversations with coworkers and acquaintances (B ¼ .187, b ¼ .133, p < .01), as gains that additionally contribute to civic involvement (B ¼ .899, b ¼ .291, p < .001). Bootstrapped confidence intervals (CIs) confirm the significance of the indirect association (point estimate ¼ .168, 95% CI [.06, .337]) or that the reduction in the size of the total effect is significant once the mediating variable is included in the model (see Preacher & Hayes, 2004). In percentage terms, the size of the relationship between Facebook group sociability and civic participation drops by 19.4% after the inclusion of the weak-tie discussion mediator, but remains significant (b ¼ .162, p < .01). This indicates partial mediation (see Baron & Kenny, 1986), as Hypothesis 2 finds support. The link between Facebook group sociability and civic participation depends in part on the weak-tie discussions it contributes to. Hypothesis 3 predicted that efforts of sociability in Facebook groups would be positively associated with generalized trust. The model accounted for 30.3% of the variance in trust, R2 ¼ .303, F(18, 620) ¼ 16.39, p < .001, however results show that Facebook group sociability was not directly related to trusting in the average person (b ¼ .056, p ¼ .224). Neither was spending time in Facebook groups (b ¼ .008, p ¼ .857) nor using Facebook in general (b ¼ .012, p ¼ .804). Hypothesis 3 is not supported, and Table 3 presents the full model. Sociability use of Facebook groups is not directly related to estimations of the average person’s trustworthiness. Hypothesis 4 predicted that Facebook group sociability would indirectly relate to generalized trust, through an increase in bridging social capital. Results of a mediation analysis indicate that Facebook group sociability had a significant total effect on generalized trust, such that users who 620 Social Science Computer Review 37(5) Table 3. Multiple Regression Predicting Generalized Trust. Unstandardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients Correlations B Standard Error b Significance Semipartial 0.513 0.105 0.089 0.079 0.006 0.023 1.106E 6 .241 .049 .061 .062 .002 .017 .000 .078 .053 .045 .149 .047 .074 .034 .034 .142 .203 .000 .185 .040 .070 .049 .042 .136 .044 .068 Republican 0.004 Democrat 0.082 Southern 0.092 Neighborhood diverse 1.998E 5 Weak-tie discuss 0.030 Civic participation 0.010 Bridging 0.254 Bonding 0.125 Particularized 0.246 Facebook 0.011 Facebook group 0.004 Group sociability 0.037 .060 .053 .049 .013 .019 .006 .045 .033 .042 .046 .020 .031 .002 .059 .067 .000 .062 .062 .263 .154 .221 .012 .008 .056 .951 .121 .059 .999 .114 .096 .000 .000 .000 .804 .857 .224 .002 .051 .063 .000 .052 .055 .188 .124 .196 .008 .006 .040 Model Constant Female White Hispanic Age Education Income actively socialize in these groups are more likely to trust in the average person, when bridging social capital is kept out of the model (b ¼ .165, p < .001; Hayes, 2013). Results also show that Facebook group sociability had a significant indirect effect on trust, through bridging social capital. Divere social efforts in groups on the site help users amass larger stores of active weak ties upon which to draw (B ¼ .289, b ¼ .416, p < .001), and these gains spill over to trusting in people (B ¼ .254, b ¼ .263, p < .001). Bootstrapped CIs confirm the significance of the indirect association (point estimate ¼ .074, 95% CI [.044, .111]) or that the drop in the size of the relationship between Facebook group sociability and generalized trust is significant once bridging social capital is included in the model. In fact, the direct association between the two measures actually drops to nonsignificance after bridging’s inclusion (b ¼ .056, p ¼ .224), which suggests full mediation. Any relationship between Facebook group sociability and generalized trust here completely depends on the bridging social capital users manage to accrue (see Baron & Kenny, 1986).5 But Hypothesis 4 finds support, as efforts of sociability in Facebook groups carry over to trusting in a wider range of people, because of the bridging social connections they permit one to activate. Research Question 1 asked whether Facebook group sociability would moderate any association between neighborhood diversity and generalized trust. Results of a moderated multiple regression including the same set of control variables showed a significant interaction between neighborhood diversity and Facebook group sociability (B ¼ .042, b ¼ .125, p < .001). Neighborhood diversity was negatively associated with generalized trust between the values of 1 and 2.43 on the scale for Facebook group sociability. But between the values of 3.79 and 5, neighborhood-level diversity was a positive source of generalized trust (Figure 1). This indicates a crossover interaction (Szklo & Nieto, 2014) and explains the lack of any direct association between neighborhood diversity and trust in the full regression (see Table 3). Because the size and even direction of this association here Bouchillon 621 Figure 1. The effect of neighborhood diversity on generalized trust at levels of Facebook group sociability. depends on levels of sociability Facebook group users exhibit. As neighborhoods diversify, users who are less likely to interact in Facebook groups see their feelings of trust in the average person falter. But for those who employ Facebook groups in wide-ranging efforts of sociability, the influx of neighborhood diversity becomes a reason to trust in the average person. Research Question 1 thus finds support, as diverse social efforts in Facebook groups appear to bolster real-world perceptions of difference. Discussion The problem of waning social capital in America can be viewed as a failure to grasp the strength of weak ties, all the benefits of diversifying personal connections, something efforts of sociability in digital groups might clear up. Because benefits arise when we learn to “put faith in strangers” (Uslaner, 2002b, p. 14), but the threat dynamic mostly prevents us from doing so (Dinesen & Sønderskov, 2018; Putnam, 2007). Digital-group settings can ease this process of connecting, for sourcing newer, weaker ties on the basis of shared interests (Flanagin et al., 2006). As a test of potential benefits, I weighed the use of Facebook groups for meeting new people alongside measures of social capital like civic participation and generalized trust (Putnam, 2000). The question of whether group sociability would alter the way users perceive of racial and ethnic diversity in their neighborhoods was also asked. Sociability use of Facebook groups was a source of civic participation, contributing to users joining a wider range of civic efforts, and assuming more active roles therein. Group sociability was also an indirect source of participation, by adding to weak-tie discussions both online and off-line. Grasping the social-capital benefits of weak ties in the digital-group setting apparently nudges users to interact with them everywhere, and the added social contact spills over to new engagements in the end. Facebook use was in general negatively associated with the same measure of engagement. Yet meeting new people in Facebook groups becomes a direct and indirect source of localized participation. 622 Social Science Computer Review 37(5) As it relates to the other half of the virtuous circle, no direct association was found between Facebook group sociability and feelings of trust in the average person. Digital group interactions are not yet to the point of resembling face-to-face contact that they can be said to pay the exact same dividends. Nevertheless, indirect effects can exist even in the absence of direct or total effects (Hayes, 2013), and Facebook group sociability here contributed to generalized trust indirectly, through an increase in bridging social capital. Social efforts in these groups translate into faith in the average person by adding to weak-tie connections and resources. Indeed, bridging wholly accounts for Facebook group sociability’s contribution to trust in the present study. When asked whether the average person could be trusted, sociable Facebook group users were here more likely to say yes, even in the face of increasing neighborhood diversity. They trusted because of the racial and ethnic differences they lived around, while less sociable users still mistrusted at the sight. An increase in intercultural competency is theorized as the reason why, where beyond measures like motivation or skill, diverse interactions promote feelings of tolerance and empathy (Mollov, 2006; Preece & Ghozati, 2001; Zhao, Abrahamson, Anderson, Ha, & Widdows, 2013). The use of Facebook groups for activating these connections may even alter the way users perceive of racial and ethnic diversity locally, thus mitigating the tendency for differences to get viewed as a threat. Making this switch ironically depends on the social effort one exerts online, in groups especially, as contact that sets the stage for a complete reversal, “the development of a positive attitude toward other cultures” (Ciftci, 2016, p. 317). Limitations and Future Directions This survey used a nonprobability mode of sampling, by fielding respondents from an Internet panel, which limits how widely the results generalize. I address this in part by matching respondents to U.S. Census parameters for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and region, so at the very least, this looks like a cross section of the American populace. But cross-sectional surveys cannot speak to causation in general, and the most that can be shown here is covariance. It could be that engaging civically and trusting socially prompts more social uses of Facebook groups, but not vice versa. Or, these associations could be spurious. Either way, a longitudinal survey is necessary to show time order, and an experiment to demonstrate causation, with covariance nonetheless as a step. With the rise of social networking sites, and even newer technologies like virtual reality, digital modes of interacting can be said to more closely resemble interpersonal forms of social contact (Shuter, 2012). As this mimicry improves, so too might SNS’s potential to facilitate competencies traditionally acquired face to face (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017). This would have a range of applications, from the travel industry to office-sensitivity training, but foremost among them remains the reintegration of local residents into back into neighborhood life (Julien, 2015), something efforts of sociability in Facebook groups here show potential for. But the public’s good faith in Facebook has also warn thin, evidenced by the Cambridge Analytica breach, in which the private data of 87 million users was leaked by the site (Kang & Frenkel, 2018). So although digital mediums could aid in the regeneration of social capital, this notion becomes hard to reconcile with the often haphazard way in which these sites are managed. The task becomes one of providing for online interactions that resemble their real-world counterparts, while still protecting that which users would like to keep private. Conclusions If the “central challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a newer, broader sense of ‘we’” (Putnam, 2007, p. 139), new media can help, with SNS groups as something of a rare commodity, a place where diverse interactions still occur regularly (Lee & Lee, 2010) and still pay Bouchillon 623 dividends for social capital (Bouchillon & Gotlieb, 2017). Here, these include weak-tie discussions, bridging social connections, civic participation, and generalized trust; and as an added bonus, diversity itself becomes a reason to trust, after recasting difference as a source of reciprocity. I thus provide evidence of not only the digitization of American social life, but the added value of digital groups for diverse social efforts, where interactions could ease the process of living near, and connecting with, different kinds of people. Appendix Dependent Variable Civic participation. Please indicate any and all civic organizations you were part of during the past 12 months: (a) a local church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other formal religious group; (b) a local sports club or league; (c) a youth organization like the scouts or Boys and Girls Clubs; (d) a parents’ association; (e) a veterans’ group; (f) a neighborhood group; (g) a group for senior citizens or the elderly; (h) a humanitarian group that provides services to the needy; (i) a labor union or trade association; (j) a service club or fraternity/sorority; (k) an ethnic or civil rights group; (l) a political action group or party committee; (m) a literary, art, or study group; (n) a health-oriented support group, for yourself or on behalf of another (Son & Lin, 2008); or (o) an environmental group (Smith et al., 2008). Mediating Variables Weak-tie discussion. In the past month, how often did you talk with people outside of your inner circle—like coworkers or acquaintances—about the following: (a) national issues and politics, (b) local issues and politics, (c) issues concerning your neighborhood, (d) personal issues and familyrelated topics, (e) work- or career-related topics, or (f) leisure and entertainment topics (American National Election Studies, 2008). Perceived access to bridging social capital. Please indicate whether you agree or disagree: Interacting with people (a) makes me want to try new things, (b) makes me feel like part of a larger community, (c) reminds me that everyone in the world is connected, (d) gives me new people to talk to, and (e) I come in contact with new people all the time (Williams, 2006). Control Variables Perceived access to bonding social capital. Please indicate whether you agree or disagree: (a) There is someone I can turn to for advice about making very important decisions; (b) When I feel lonely, there are several people I can talk to; (c) If I needed an emergency loan of $100, I know someone I can turn to; (d) The people I interact with would put their reputation on the line for me; and (e) The people I interact with would help me fight an injustice (Williams, 2006). Particularized trust. Please indicate whether you agree or disagree: (a) It’s safer to put your trust in people who’ve shown they deserve it, (b) It’s easier to trust those you can relate to, (c) Past experiences are a good indication of whether or not you can trust someone, (d) It’s easier to trust family and close friends than someone you barely know, and (e) You can judge a person’s character by the things they do. Intensity of Facebook use. (a) About how many total Facebook friends do you have? (b) In the past week, on average, about how many minutes per day have you spent on Facebook? Please indicate 624 Social Science Computer Review 37(5) whether you agree or disagree; (c) Facebook is part of my daily routine; (d) I feel out of touch when I haven’t logged into Facebook for a while; (e) I feel I am part of the Facebook community; and (f) I would be sorry if Facebook shut down (Ellison et al., 2007). Author’s Note This data set is available from the author upon request (bbouchillon@gmail.com). Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Funding The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Notes 1. In terms of population size, this is the most of any country. Saudi Arabia ranks second, and Germany third, each home to more than 12 million immigrants. 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Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/fre quently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states Author Biography Brandon C. Bouchillon is an assistant professor of journalism at Arkansas University. His research considers the process of mobilization in the Internet age, along with digital modes of socialization and their implications for real-world communities. Email: bbouchillon@gmail.com Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Public Relations Review journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/pubrev How social ties contribute to collective actions on social media: A social capital approach Leping Youa,*, Linda Honb a College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida, G031 Weimer Hall, 1885 Stadium Road, PO Box 118400, Gainesville, FL, 32611, United States b College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida, 3202C Weimer Hall, 1885 Stadium Road, PO Box 118400, Gainesville, FL, 32611, United States AR TIC LE INFO ABSTRACT Keywords: Social ties Social capital Digital collective actions Collective efficacy In public relations research into civic engagement, the influence of social ties on the individual level has not been adequately studied from a social capital perspective. To fill this gap, this study conducts a one-factor between subjects experiment to examine the difference, if any, between the social influence of strong ties and of weak ties on individuals’ participation intentions in regard to collective actions. This study postulates collective efficacy as a factor possibly associated with the intention to participate in collective actions. The study findings suggest that advocacy about certain social causes, such as veterans affairs, have globally positive effects on publics’ civic engagement intentions, regardless of the norms of the social network with which the individuals are connected. Furthermore, collective efficacy was found to be positively associated with participation in collective actions. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed. 1. Introduction Social media are an impactful tool for connecting individuals and organizations so they can come together to support advocacy efforts and make social changes (Saffer, Taylor, & Yang, 2013). However, few researchers have looked at public relations efforts to generate civic engagement via social media at the micro-level (i.e., the individual level) (Dodd, Brummette, & Hazleton, 2015) from a social capital perspective. The current study aims to examine the relationship between social ties and civic engagement at the individual level by taking an underexplored social capital approach. Online activism describes a group of like-minded people coming together and advocating for a cause via digital media platforms, with the ultimate goal of changing the status of the social issue (Harlow, 2012). In the context of online activism, collective actions are typically taken as part of a short-term social movement event, which may include the circulation and signing of a petition (Harlow, 2012), fundraising for non-governmental or nonprofit organizations, or volunteering for community services (Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009). Today, more and more people use social media to socialize and gather to express their social and political identity. Social capital is an emerging concept that holds great promise for measuring the value and impact of public relations activities (Taylor, 2011). Social capital has been shown by researchers to have a community-building function on the societal level in enhancing the development of democracy (Yang & Taylor, 2013); to help cultivate shared meaning and foster relationships among ⁎ Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: letitia299@ufl.edu (L. You), lhon@jou.ufl.edu (L. Hon). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2019.04.005 Received 28 May 2018; Received in revised form 15 January 2019; Accepted 9 April 2019 Available online 03 May 2019 0363-8111/ Published by Elsevier Inc. T L. You and L. Hon network subgroups on the communication level (Saffer et al., 2013), and to encourage public relations practitioners to be more civically engaged in their work (Dodd et al., 2015). Despite that controlled social media owned by organizations have been shown to help generate interorganizational bridging social capital in political actions (Sweetser, 2011) and to influence organizations’ political advocacy processes (Saffer et al., 2013), there are few empirical studies of how the strategic use of social media in public relations may impact general publics’ civic engagement (Zhang and Abitbol, 2016). What is more, it is not entirely clear whether strong or weak ties are more influential in motivating individuals to engage in collective actions on social media. A great deal of research has examined how social media allow social movements to reach critical mass (Harlow, 2012; Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012) and how strong-tie networks are more effective in getting consumers to endorse products, which in turn leads to higher purchase intentions (Wen, Tan, & Chang, 2009). Yet few studies have examined how the distinctive features of strong- and weak-tie networks influence individuals’ motivation to participate in online collective actions. Thus, by using a social capital perspective, from the standpoints of stakeholders, this study attempts to explore the difference, if any, between the effects of weak ties and strong ties in encouraging people to express their sociopolitical stances on social media. To investigate the relationship between social ties and civic engagement on the individual level, this study conducts a one-factor (social networks: strong vs. weak vs. control) between subjects experiment to examine how various strategies for interacting with different social networks affect individuals’ tendencies to participate in collective actions on social media. This study also postulates collective efficacy as a possible underlying mechanism that might explain how individuals perceive effectiveness of collective actions and thus affect their intentions to participate in online collective actions. 2. Literature review 2.1. Conceptualization of social ties: a social capital perspective Granovetter (1973) defined social tie strength as “a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confidence), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie” (p. 1361). Applied to social networking sites, social tie strength refers to a general sense of the emotional intensity of one’s connection to another person (Gilbert, 2012). For example, strong-tie networks include close friends and family members with whom we have a secure emotional and intimate connection. Alternatively, a weak-tie network includes strangers, acquaintances, and friends of friends, from whom we may feel less emotional support but on whom we still count to keep up with cutting-edge information (Gilbert, 2012). Unsurprisingly, social capital is a slippery term (Williams, 2006) with a variety of definitions in various fields (Adler & Kwon, 2002) at multiple levels (Lin, 2002). Social capital has been defined as resources that individuals can access that are embedded in their social relationships (Bourdieu, 1986), creating expected returns on investment in social interaction within networks (Lin, 2002). In public relations, on the organizational level, social capital can be measured as business organizations provide information, services, and networking resources for publics to access through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives (Taylor, 2010). Individual-level social capital is rooted in people’s social ties (Zhong, 2014) and allows them to capitalize on their social interactions, thus obtaining reciprocal benefits such as novel information or emotional support (Steinfield, Ellison, & Lampe, 2008). At the individual level, Putnam (2000) assigned bridging and bonding social capital to weak ties and strong ties respectively, on the basis of different associated norms of reciprocity. Specifically, individuals can attain bridging social capital through more diverse and broader weak-tie networks (e.g., celebrities, public figures, and trusted organizations), in attempts to look for novel information or new resources, or to broaden social horizons. Alternatively, bonding social capital is seen when individuals obtain emotional support from their strong social networks, for instance among family members and close friends (Ellison, Vitak, Gray, & Lampe, 2014; Williams, 2006). In the case of both bridging and bonding social capital, people who are interactive within their social networks are considered to be building sustainable, healthy relationships with their social networks (Putnam, 2000). Therefore, this study adopted a social capital approach to understanding how people interact with social media to gain bridging and bonding social capital through weak ties (particularly social media pages of public figures and organizations) and strong ties, and how such interactive communication could affect people’s behavioral participation intentions within online communities. 2.2. Collective actions on Facebook Social media are ideal venues for collective actions (Valenzuela, 2013). They function by interweaving the private life and public political expression of people while extending existing offline interpersonal relationships (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011). Social media are also the dominant tool for modern public relations, since they not only help to identify industry thought leaders and social influencers but also help social influencers spread messages to specific audiences (Leszczynski, 2016) and connect those who have shared values and beliefs, even if those values and beliefs are not firmly entrenched (Valenzuela, 2013). Rather than increasing strong ties through online social networks, Facebook seems more likely to strengthen weak ties and promote collective actions (Valenzuela et al., 2009). Also, Facebook usage was found to be strongly positively associated with bridging social capital (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). This finding may be due to the core characteristics of Facebook as an interactive social network (Valenzuela et al., 2009). First, Facebook aids social media users in personal identity construction, since it enables people to connect with diversified networks based on their socialization needs and to receive feedback and acceptance from interpersonal interaction within social networks without temporal or geographical limits. Second, people tend to follow Facebook groups with which they share interests, and Facebook allows people to keep tracking the news feeds of those groups. Furthermore, the group interaction helps Facebook users to build trusting and reciprocal relationships with other group members, which foster more 2 L. You and L. Hon opportunities to motivate people to engage in collective activities in online communities (Kobayashi, Ikeda, & Miyata, 2006; Valenzuela et al., 2009). 2.3. Strong/weak ties and collective actions in public relations Although public relations is seen as crucial in mobilizing sociopolitical activism and maximizing individuals’ and organizations’ efforts to affect policy making and social change (Saffer et al., 2013), few studies have been done on the importance of strong ties (i.e., interpersonal influence) as antecedents to collective actions. Research on the influence of strong and weak ties on attitudinal and behavioral change is commonly seen in the fields of advertising and marketing, thus far yielding inconsistent results. For example, Shan and King (2015) examined the relationship between a receiver’s intention of forwarding a viral advertising message and the receiver’s connection to the message sender (weak tie or strong tie) and showed that weak ties have a stronger influence on social media users’ intentions of sharing viral advertising messages on their social network sites. Other studies have shown that people were more likely to share a marketing message when it came through strong, interpersonal ties (i.e., family and close friends) than through weak, impersonal ties (i.e., an advertisement or commercial) (Chiu, Hsieh, Kao, & Lee, 2007), and that interpersonal influence and bonding social capital within social tie networks have significant effects on consumers’ e-word-of-mouth behavior on Facebook (Hsu & Tran, 2013). However, research on the influence of strong and weak ties on civic engagement (such as online participation in sociopolitical campaigns) is disproportionately scarce in public relations research, where most studies examining the organizational network’s potential to motivate group members to engage civically have centered on weak ties (Kent, Sommerfeldt, & Saffer, 2016; Saffer, 2016; Yang & Saffer, 2018). It is true that the different weak ties evident, for instance, in the groups followed by an individual may share some overlapping concerns and facilitate information exchange and shared meaning creation within networks and thus promote collective actions (Saffer, 2016). However, studies (e.g., Valenzuela, 2014; Valenzuela, Correa, & Gil de Zúñiga, 2018) suggest that the influence of strong ties should not be underestimated because, when it comes to civic engagement on social issues, the social pressure and influence of strong ties reinforce people’s online collective action participation. Less is known, from the standpoint of stakeholders regarding the difference, if any, between the influence of networked strong ties and of networked weak ties on motivating people to participate in collective actions on Facebook, specifically. To investigate this area, the following question was posed: RQ 1: Which social ties, strong or weak, are more likely to motivate people to participate in collective actions on Facebook? 2.4. Collective efficacy Collective efficacy is an indicator of people’s beliefs and perceptions regarding whether a social network group can organize and mobilize as a community to carry out collective actions (Kavanaugh, Reese, Carroll, & Rosson, 2005). People’s perceptions of the degree of a community’s efficacy thus shape the face of digital social activism (Bandura, 2002) and determine the likelihood of individuals’ participation (Kavanaugh et al., 2005). The more resources that social network groups can mobilize, the more group members will believe their groups to be efficacious in collective actions (Van Zomeren & Spears, 2009). Social network group interaction on Facebook is more likely to increase collective efficacy and thus to promote collective actions (Halpern, Valenzuela, & Katz, 2017). In contrast to Twitter, which centers on one-way communication, Facebook allows social network groups to build reciprocal relationships in which frequent communication and transparent information exchange among group members facilitate social trust (Halpern et al., 2017; Kobayashi et al., 2006). Such a positive reciprocal relationship further empowers group members to be confident in dealing with social issues and willing to create shared values through online collective actions (Halpern et al., 2017). Therefore, this study postulates that when people realize that the social networks to which they are connected can play an active role in meaningful change, they will be more likely to participate in collective actions on Facebook. H1. People who perceive more collective efficacy within their networks will be more likely to participate in collective actions on Facebook. 3. Methods To investigate the proposed research question and hypothesis, a one-factor experiment with three conditions (strong vs. weak vs. control) was conducted. Following previous studies’ operationalization of collective action (Gil de Zúñiga, Jung, & Valenzuela, 2012; Valenzuela et al., 2009), fundraising for veterans was adapted as the campaign context for the experiment. Data were collected through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (M-Turk), with $1 paid for each Human Intelligence Task (HIT) as compensation for participation in the survey. In total, 231 participants were recruited and randomly assigned to the three conditions. 3.1. Participants Table 1 summarizes the demographic information of the participants. For the experiment, 29.9% (n = 69) of participants were assigned into the strong-tie condition; 36.4% (n = 84) were in the weak-tie condition; and 33.8% (n = 78) were assigned the control condition. The majority (87%) identified themselves as White (n = 201), followed by Black 9.5% (n = 22) and Asian 3% (n = 7). Among the participants, 59.6% identified as female (n = 137) and 40.4% were male (n = 93). The average age of the participants was 40 (SD = 10.95). As to educational background, 42.4% (n = 98) of participants have completed a four-year degree; followed by 3 L. You and L. Hon Table 1 Demographics and descriptive statistics (N = 230). Categories Gender Male Female Age (M = 40.23, SD = 10.95) Ethnicity White Black Asian Hispanic Other Education Less than high school High school graduate Some college 2 year degree 4 year degree Professional degree Doctorate Income Less than $10,000 $10,000–$19,999 $20,000–$29,999 $30,000–$39,999 $40,000–$49,999 $50,000–$59,999 $60,000–$69,999 $70,000–$79,999 More than $80,000 N % 93 137 40.4 59.6 201 22 7 8 1 87 9.5 3 3.5 .4 1 24 39 35 98 31 3 .4 10.4 16.9 15.2 42.4 13.4 1.3 2 13 11 26 27 32 30 28 61 .9 5.6 4.8 11.3 11.7 13.9 13.0 12.1 26.5 some college 16.9% (n = 39); two- year degree 15.2% (n = 35); and professional degree 13.4% (n = 31). 3.2. Procedure According to Granovetter (1973), weak ties are seen as social networks that provide innovative information that is less likely assessed from individuals’ strong-tie networks. On the other hand, strong ties can provide more emotional support than weak ties. Following Chiu et al. (2007)’s tie strength operationalization, this study operationalizes strong-tie network as personal ties including individuals’ close friends and family on Facebook. Weak-tie network is operationalized as impersonal ties, and in the context of public relations, the impersonal network consists of public Facebook pages of organizations and public authorities. In terms of experimental design, this study adopted previous studies’ manipulation of social-tie strengths (e.g., Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011; Krämer, Rösner, Eimler, Winter, & Neubaum, 2014; Wu, Lee, & Kuo, 2016) by priming the participants to think either of three close friends or family members and three public pages with which they have interacted on Facebook. Specifically, in the weak-tie group, the participants were directed to spend 2–3 minutes on their Facebook friends’ list page and to select three public Facebook pages with whose posts they have interacted (e.g., liked, commented on, or shared). Next, the participants were asked to write down the names of pages that they followed on Facebook, a brief description of the liked pages, and how they interacted with those pages. In the strong-tie group, the participants also were directed to spend 2–3 minutes browsing their Facebook friends’ list and then to select three close friends or family members (hereafter simply friends) with whom they were connected on Facebook. The participants then were asked to write down the first and last initials of their strong-tie friends; the relationship they had with those friends; and how they usually interacted with the listed friends. After having listed the friends, the participants from both weak- and strong-ties conditions were introduced to an ongoing fundraising campaign for the development of a military family retreat center for veterans and asked to imagine that the friends/public pages they listed invited them to help support the campaign. In the control condition, the participants were not asked for any information about their Facebook networks but merely showed the veterans campaign. All participants responded to a list of measurements regarding their intentions of supporting the online campaign (the collective actions). The order of all the measurement items in this online survey was randomized (Fig. 1). Finally, the participants were debriefed at the end of the survey. 4 L. You and L. Hon Fig. 1. Facebook Post of "Active Heroes" Campaign for Veterans. 4. Manipulation check and measures 4.1. Manipulation check To ensure the effectiveness of the manipulation, we implemented the scale measurement items developed by Williams (2006). This approach is also a way to confirm the underlying mechanisms regarding how social media users connect and interact with strong-tie or weak-tie groups – specifically, whether people build bonding social capital by interacting with strong-tie groups on social media as a way of extending their offline social networks to cyberspace and to gain emotional support. Scale items include: 1) The Facebook friends I listed are those whom I can turn to for advice about making very important decisions; 2) When I feel lonely, the listed friends in my Facebook network are the ones whom I can talk to; 3) If I needed a very large emergency loan, I know I could turn to those listed friends from my Facebook network; and 4) I know the listed friends in my Facebook network would share their last dollar with me. Alternatively, those who connected and interacted with Facebook public pages (weak ties) have higher inclinations to bridging social capital: Interacting with the listed pages in my Facebook network makes me 1) interested in things that happen outside of my town; 2) want to try new things; 3) interested in what people unlike me are thinking; and 4) curious about other places in the world. The participants were indicated their agreement on the stated items on a 7-point Likert-type scale where 1 represents strongly disagree and 7 represents strongly agree. Both strong- and weak-tie groups responded using the 8-item social capital (bridging and bonding) scale. The result of an independent t-test showed that people have significantly different purposes in interacting with social networks of different strengths: t (149) = 8.538, p < .001, confirming that strong and weak networks serve different functions. More specifically, those who interact with strong-tie networks are concerned about obtaining emotional support (bonding social capital) whereas those who interact with weak social networks care more about seeking innovative information (bridging social capital). 4.2. Collective efficacy A five-item scale was adapted (Kavanaugh et al., 2005) to measure participants’ agreement on the statements regarding the ability that the social network groups have to accomplish veterans welfare advocacy (1= strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree). Scale items include: 1) By taking action with Active Heroes and my Facebook group, I believe we can handle mistakes and setbacks without 5 L. You and L. Hon getting discouraged, and 2) I am convinced that we can improve veterans welfare, even when resources are limited or become scarce (M = 5.10, SD = 1.30). The scale was highly reliable, Cronbach’s α = .953. 4.3. Collective action intentions One limitation of previous studies of collective actions on Facebook was their reliance on measurement using traditional scales that did not take into account features exclusive to social media platforms that may facilitate online collective actions. Instead, most of these studies focused on how online social network interaction predicted offline collective actions, such as raising money for charity or trying to persuade others to vote in an election (Valenzuela et al., 2009), or general online political participation, such as “subscrib[ing] to a political listserv,” “send[ing] a political message via email,” or “writ[ing] a letter to the editor of a newspaper” (Gil de Zúñiga et al., 2012, p. 324). As Valenzuela et al. (2009) suggested, “Alternate measures of participation that better fit the new media environment constitute a good venue for future research” (p. 895). For this reason, this study introduces a online collective action scale by modifying the traditional scale to reflect the most up-to-date features of collective actions on social media, such as liking, commenting, and donating through gofundme.org to support particular social issues. Specifically, the participants responded to a 10-item scale regarding how likely they are to comment on/repost this post to my Facebook wall with my opinion about this initiative; hit “attending” an event related to this initiative; help fundraise (e.g., GoFundMe.com or activeheroes.org) for this initiative; and donate through GoFundMe.com or activeheroes.org for this initiative. Given the high reliability of this scale (Cronbach’s α = .955), the 10 items were aggregated to form a single continuous measure (M = 3.91, SD = 1.72). 4.4. Covariates 4.4.1. Demographic factors and personality Studies have shown that demographic factors and personality have strong associations with civic engagement (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011). In particular, people who are female, financially privileged, extroverted, and have received advanced formal education are more likely to participate in civic activities (Valenzuela et al., 2009). To measure personality, the participants were asked to indicate their personality on a scale of 1–7 where 1 represents “I view myself as more reserved,” and 7 represents “I view myself as more extroverted” (Gil de Zúñiga & Valenzuela, 2011). 4.4.2. Political ideology As to political ideology and civic engagement on social media, studies have shown that people who identified themselves as more liberal are more likely to participate in the dissemination of political (e.g., marriage equality, raising the minimum wage) and nonpolitical information (e.g., the Boston Marathon bombing and use of chemical weapons during the Syrian civil war) than those who were identified as conservatives (Barberá, Jost, Nagler, Tucker, & Bonneau, 2015). In this study, participants evaluated their political identity on a 7-point scale from strongly conservative to strongly liberal. 4.4.3. Facebook use intensity A prior study confirmed a causal relationship between using Facebook and bridging social capital (Steinfield et al., 2008). The Facebook use intensity scale was adapted from (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2006). The participants rated how much agreement they have on the relevant statements regarding their feelings of using Facebook: 1) Facebook is part of my everyday activity; 2) I am proud to tell people I’m on Facebook; 3) Facebook has become part of my daily routine; and 4) I feel out of touch when I haven’t logged onto Facebook for a while (M = 4.85, SD = 1.41). The scale was highly reliable, Cronbach’s α = .907. 4.4.4. Facebook use motivation The eight-item scale for Facebook use motivation was adapted from Ellison et al. (2006). The participants indicated the extent of their agreement with the statements about motivations for using Facebook for connecting with offline contacts and information seeking. The measured items include 1) I use Facebook to find out about events, trends, music, or get information; and 2) I use Facebook to check out someone I met socially, etc. In general, people agreed that they use Facebook for the purposes of getting useful information and connecting with offline contacts (M = 5.07, SD = 1.12). The scale was highly reliable, Cronbach’s α = .838. 5. Results Research question 1 asks about the social influence difference between weak and strong ties, if any, on motivating individuals’ intentions of participating in collective activities. A one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was conducted by controlling a set of variables: Facebook use intensity, Facebook use motivation, issue importance, personality, political ideology, and demographic variables (i.e., gender, income, age, and education). The result of Levene’s test meets the homogenous variance assumption: F(2, 217) = 2.366, p = .96. Overall, the result of the omnibus test shows that the ANCOVA model explained 51.6% of the variance (R2 = .516). People who are in the weak-tie group (M = 4.05, SD = 1.69) indicated higher participation intentions on collective activities than those who are in the conditions of strong ties (M = 3.88, SD = 1.55) and control group (M = 3.86, SD = 1.87). Yet, the results of ANCOVA showed that there is no statistical significance between the strong ties condition, the weak ties condition, and the control 6 L. You and L. Hon Table 2 Pearson correlations for hierarchical linear regression. Collective Action Collective Action Political Ideology Gender Age Education Income FBMotivation FBUse Issue Importance Personality Collective Efficacy Political Ideology Gender Age Education Income FBMotivation FBUse Issue Importance Personality Collective Efficacy 1.00 −0.28*** 1.00 −0.05 −0.07 −0.11 −0.14 0.44*** 0.37*** 0.62*** 0.12 −0.21** 0.01 −0.09 −0.16* −0.19* −0.38*** 1.00 0.14* −0.04 0.01 −0.14 0.10 −0.09 1.00 0.10 0.10 −0.02 0.16* 0.13 1.00 0.35*** 0.06 0.04 −0.04 1.00 0.00 0.02 0.05 1.00 0.60*** 0.30*** 1.00 0.18* 1.00 0.41*** 0.66*** −0.18* −0.23** −0.03 −0.05 0.04 0.05 −0.02 −0.06 −0.12 0.01 0.19* 0.44*** 0.22** 0.34*** 0.31*** 0.52*** 1.00 0.13 1.00 Note: N = 144 *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001 (one-tailed). group on collective actions intentions: F(2, 208) = .42, p > .05.
In addition, political ideology, education, income, and gender were found to have no effects on participation intentions of collective actions (p > .05). But Facebook use intensity [F(1, 208) = 5.37, p < .05 ηp2 = .03], Facebook usage motivation [F(1, 208) = 5.57, p < .05 ηp2 = .03], issue importance [F(1, 208) = 70.18, p < .001, ηp2 = .25], personality [F(1, 208) = 8.75, p < .05 ηp2 = .04], and age [F(1, 208) = 6.20, p < .05 ηp2 = .03] were found to have significant effects on publics’ participation intentions of collective actions. Hypothesis 1 postulated that people who perceive more collective efficacy within their networks will be more likely to participate in online collective actions. A hierarchical regression analysis was performed by entering 3 separate blocks of independent variables. Prior to cond... Purchase answer to see full attachment

  
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