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Spotlight Article from Forum for Social Economics: Grabner-Kräuter & Bitter, "Trust in Online Social Networks: A Multifaceted Perspective"

ForumThe editors of the Forum for Social Economics are proud to announce their first Spotlight Article for 2015, which Taylor & Francis has made freely available: Sonja Grabner-Kräuter & Sofie Bitter, "Trust in online social networks: A multifaceted perspective" (Forum for Social Economics, 44/1, pp. 48-68). The abstract follows:

In recent years, online social networks (OSNs) have gained great popularity and are now among the most frequently visited sites on the Web. Although security standards and practices are an increasing focus of attention, participants still reveal great amounts of sensitive information in the Web 2.0 environment. Obviously, online social networking takes place in a context of trust. However, trust is a concept with many facets and dimensions. To facilitate trust research in OSNs this article aims at clarifying the role of trust and the relevance of facets of trust, social capital and embeddedness in OSNs. First, the focus is on the individual's decision to trust and on processes through which trust actually emerges. Subsequently, trust is viewed as a structurally embedded asset or a property of relationships and networks that helps to shape interaction patterns within OSNs. A conceptual framework is developed that integrates theoretical concepts from the trust literature, social network and social capital theory, and helps to map different trust-related issues in OSNs.

In addition, Associate Editor Cecilia Winters has written the following introductory comment on Grabner-Kräuter and Bitter's article:

Online Social Networks: Trust or Treachery?

There may be some baby boomers in the modern industrialized world who remember a time without home or office computers and, therefore, no social networking.  Since the mid-90s, however, well after the digital revolution was underway, online social network sites (OSNs) began to appear and proliferate. The fact that OSNs constitute part of a social structure that now exists, in many cases, without a functioning arbitrator, has introduced exciting research opportunities. The editors of Volume 44, Issue 1, of the Forum for Social Economics, which focuses on the theme of well-being, happiness, and trust, are delighted to present, among an array of fascinating articles, the one we have deemed will most stimulate thought, discussion, and future research.

We invite you to read “Trust in online social networks: A multifaceted perspective” by Sonja Grabner-Kräuter & Sofie Bitter. Despite the flourishing number of instances, statistics, and stories of cyber bullying, internet trolling, and public shaming that are now also part of our wired world of social networking, the authors assert that social networking does indeed take place in a context of online trust. Having said that, they assert that trust is a concept with many facets and dimensions in which their research attempts to clarify the role of trust and the relevant facets of trust, social capital, and embeddedness in OSNs. Embeddedness refers to the extent to which economic activity is constrained by social institutions, and the authors view trust as a structurally embedded asset or a property of relationships and networks that help to form behavior in OSNs. The authors note that previous research on OSNs has not extensively considered the relationships among trust, social capital, and social networks in the Web 2.0 environment. The Web 2.0 environment is the second stage of development of the Web characterized by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social media. 

Two research questions emerge from the above:

  • What are the types and sources of trust in OSNs?
  • How is trust in OSNs related to social capital? 

It is within the context of the above questions that the rest of the paper is framed as the authors provide background to social networks and discuss types of trust in online social networks. They note that trust can be treated in a situational construct but also can be characterized as a cross-situational, cross-personal construct encompassing the unique personality of the trustor. 

The authors move on to the bases of trust in online social structures in which they helpfully point out the similarities between diverse terminologies across the research. Interestingly and perhaps controversially, they regard trust as a powerful substitute for formal governance mechanisms that allow the formation of exchange relationships and attempt to control opportunism. The reader may wonder the following: if trust is a substitute for governance, what is the role played by treachery? Given the dichotomy, does treachery imply anarchy and the potential rule of the mob in an environment where there is little accountability by individuals? The section concludes with the admonition that because micro and macro perspectives influence each other, research should take a multilevel approach, bridging both micro-macro level perspectives. However, the preceding questions are left unexplored.

Finally, a framework summary is provided that links the different bases of trust as a dynamic concept within the structural and relational dimensions of OSNs. The roots of trust and benefits to the user of OSNs are closely related to the structural position held in the OSN, the types of relationships formed, and the mode of social capital enhancement chosen. The authors conclude that research approaches must borrow from multiple disciplines to improve our understanding of the factors that influence the use of social network sites. This contribution to the literature on social networking is a step towards an overall conceptual understanding of the role of trust and the relevance of facets of trust and social capital in OSNs that encourages multi-level and multi-dimensional approaches of research problems. The role of treachery, while mentioned briefly at the onset, does not figure largely in their conceptualization of OSNs, but its absence provides an issue for readers to ponder.

Please feel free to leave comments below and contribute to the integral online aspect of the Forum.


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