Individual Motivations and Network Effects: A Multi-Level Analysis of the Structure of Online Social Relationships

Foucault Welles, B. and Contractor, N.
ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
659(1), 180-190. (2015)
April 9, 2015


This article  explores the relative influence of individual and network-level effects on  the emergence of online social relationships. Using network modeling and data  drawn from logs of social behavior inside the virtual world Second Life, we  combine individual- and network-level theories into an integrated model of  online social relationship formation. Results reveal that time spent online  and the network pressure toward balance (individuals tending to form  relationships with others who have relationships in common) predict the  emergence of online relationship ties, while gender, age, proximity,  homophily (the tendency of individuals to form relationships among people  with similar traits), and preferential attachment are not significant  predictors within the observed networks. We discuss these results in light of  existing research on online social relationships and describe how digital  data and network analytics enable novel insights about the emergence of  online social relationships.

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