Influence, power, opinion leaders – for a lot of people, their first exposure to this was in their early formative years, while in high school. It was there that they met popular kids, smart kids, losers, band kids, jocks, drama nerds, freaks and geeks. Where you fall in the spectrum depends on your outlook (and your memory), but we have all seen these groups in our life.
There is a notion that social media is supposed to break us free from clique-dom and link us with people around the world who we don’t know, encourage online dialogue and information transfer, and generally, make us more connected. But is it? When I look at my feed (of people that I approved to interact with, or deigned into my clique), I just see information that reinforces the views (generally) of my group or circle of friends. I want to interact with people like me (homophily) so I choose to be ‘friends’ with people like me. Facebook sorts its News Feed into “Top Stories”, based on my clicks before and my previous online behaviour. Not really bringing in any fresh blood to the clique.
From New York Magazine:
In 2011, the Pew Research Center found that the largest share of our Facebook friends—22 percent—come from high school. Keith Hampton, a Rutgers sociologist and one of the researchers who did the analysis, says this is true for college- and non-college-educated Americans alike. In fact, Hampton suspects that Facebook itself plays a role. “Before Facebook, there was a real discontinuity between our high-school selves and the rest of our lives.” Then Mark Zuckerberg came along. “Social ties that would have gone dormant now remain accessible over time, and all the time.”
If you didn’t like high school, that’s a bit unsettling. Twitter is a bit more open – you can interact more freely with people that you don’t know about common interests and less about old friends. It’s more about what you know than who you know, on Twitter. But, you also still get your recommendations based on your past activity – can you ever break out of the clique that you created online?
Within those cliques, there are influencers and opinion leaders who further drive behaviour. In Understanding Social Networks, Kadushin raises interesting research from James Coleman in the 1950s. Coleman found that, through an extensive study of high school influence, teens cluster into social categories — like those I mentioned at the start of this post, which can be named by those in the group or outside observers. But, beyond this “are circles formed on the basis of common interests, activities, or places to hang out. These circles create bases for interaction which, in turn, further create or solidify the circles… The circles are characterized by direct or indirect interaction through a friend of a friend” (Kadushin, 147). These groups and social circles have huge effects on the members in influencing behaviours and decisions.
It’s interesting because I would think that online interaction encourages more of these circles and fewer cliques, since we can find more people that share our interests online than in high school. But maybe we just duplicate high school in our social networks, like a never-ending Groundhog Day. What do you think – is your social network high school deja vu?