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Realizing the Social Internet? Online Social Networking Meets Offline Civic Engagement



Does Internet use have the potential to build social capital? Emerging evidence suggests that politically knowledgeable, interpersonally trusting, and civically engaged individuals share particular patterns of Internet use. In previous national survey studies, Internet use has been divided into a handful of excessively broad categories, and researchers have been unable to address newer, category-spanning Internet uses as well as the potential impact of individual Web sites. By examining the use of online social networks in a nationally representative sample of young people, this study explores the varied relationships between indicators of social capital and Internet use on a site-specific level (i.e., MySpace vs. Facebook). Indeed, differences between social networking sites are as large as those between more global categories of use (e.g., informational vs. social networking) and are robust to attempts to account for differences between the users of the sites. In explaining these relationships and exploring the differences between social networking sites, we suggest that Web site use induces a site-specific culture that can either encourage or hinder social capital.