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(5) Empowerment

An SN is a set of linked nodes empowering the user with a shared identity with communication and other organizational benefits across the network. Each individual’s page leaves a digital footprint by providing information about name, profile, availability, location and real-time updates about the person. Psychologically meaningful links can be drawn between the user’s personality and the information provided on the user’s SN page. Two features of SN are critical.

One, there is an implicit contract of responsibility and trust between members of a SN; responsibility for maintaining reputation and credibility, while enjoying the benefits of trust. A possible threat to this implicit contract is virulence created by a single comment due to the velocity and direction of the conversation. A single unpleasant rumor about some user could be casually disseminated and then acquire a force of its own through information cascades.

Second, while a SN provides a platform for sharing ideas, photos and products, how much of your identity is “owned” by the SN? Even after you delete your account, the SN has already monetized your information. Texting and tweeting are very public and transparent forms of connections. There are benefits from this transparency, particularly in the public sphere, as we shall see in Chap. 5.

What is the logic behind sharing? Why do people want to share pictures, videos, articles, pages from books? By sharing pieces of one’s identity, one is connecting in a controlled manner - the persona shared is carefully curated and published at the discretion of the owner. Sharing is a form of acknowledgement, as one human being acknowledges the status or worth of another human being. We also share to satisfy the need for, and affirmation of, kinship and reciprocal altruism. Both are biologically grounded, according to Fukuyama, as it is not merely survival of the fittest organism but rather “survival of that organism’s genes.” By exchanging personal moments of one’s life there is confirmation of membership in a common tribe. Individualism, and the drive for privacy, as we shall see in Chap. 7, is the core of our political and economic models today, only because, as Fukuyama writes, “we have institutions that override our more naturally communal instincts.”17

On the more somber side, this sharing could lead down malevolent or undesirable paths when privacy and self-promotion become the dominant features. Here again, adequate systems of trust and responsibility are vital. Much of the economics of SM rests on good governance and pro-social preferences. Dixit explains, “A society whose members have such preferences can take collective action that benefits the whole group” [33]. These are societal norms developed from internal value systems that preclude online malevolent behavior.

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