Facebook fast becoming a laboratory for the study of friendships

Published: December 18, 2007 | Last Updated: December 11, 2008 By | Reply Continue Reading

An article by Stephanie Rosenbloom in yesterday’s New York Times, On
Facebook, Scholars Link Up with Data
, explains how the popular social
networking site is increasingly being used by academic researchers to study friendships.

Rosenbloom quotes Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard sociology professor: “Our
predecessors could only dream of the kind of data we now have.” While there are
legitimate concerns that some of the 58 million Facebook users may not know their
habits and preferences are being tracked, never before have social scientists had
such a fertile source of information to mine on the nature of our friendships.

As one example, the article mentions that researchers at Harvard and UCLA are
using Facebook to examine the concept of triadic
closure
: whether your friends are friends of one another. Although the
phenomenon was first described by a sociologist named Georg Simmel as long as a
century ago, there were few empirical studies. Using Facebook as a laboratory, social
scientists are studying triadic closure—which one day may shed light on the exclusionary
social cliques that draw circles keeping some people in and others out.

Given the importance of friendship in our lives, used well, Facebook and other such
social networking sites could potentially yield important information on how to build and
sustain healthy relationships.

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