All Forms of CMC are not Created Equally: Social Capital in Facebook, Instant Messaging and Online Gaming

Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Orr, R. (Psychology)


Psychology, Behavioral.




The present research investigated levels of online and offline of social capital associated with various forms of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). Historically, the theory of social capital has been used to explain different types of social interactions and the ways in which interactions can result in benefits for the individual. The present research also introduced the Penumbrasystem, which is a level of interaction added to Bronfenbrenner's (1977) Ecological Model. The Penumbrasystem contains those contacts who are known online and thus may reflect a different form of interpersonal interaction due to the absence of real-world contact. By means of an online study, 400 participants provided responses regarding online behaviours for Instant Messaging, Facebook and online games, as well as levels of trust, social capital and communication motivation. It was observed that Facebook was associated with greater levels of bridging-type social capital, while Instant Messaging was associated with greater levels of bonding-type social capital. Trust, however, was not observed to be related to the amount of personal information that was shared online or the amount of daily time that was spent on the tool. The presence of the Penumbrasystem was supported by a cluster analysis by means of lower offline scores for social capital and a preference for online activities. This same cluster analysis also indicated a group of individuals with low motivation to communicate with others. As a way of understanding some of the differences observed in social capital between the tools, the concept of Connection capital was also proposed. Connection capital is understood to reflect the kinds of uni-directional interactions that may exist with the Penumbrasystem and may explain how high levels of use can lead to poor social and relationship outcomes. The results from this research indicate that CMC can be used to support traditional relationships, although that support becomes more difficult as online contact lists grow in size. It also suggests that there may be risks associated with an excessive reliance on contacts known solely through the Penumbrasystem that may not be fully appreciated by users.

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