Does the Internet foster new kinds of social connections, or does it simply reflect the biases and trends that we know from the offline world?
When it comes to social networks -- and to Facebook, in particular -- much of the evidence points to the finding that Facebook is, pretty much, the digital equivalent of analog society. There's the most obvious thing: that most people tend to draw their Facebook friends from analog social networks. And there are the more subtle -- and troubling -- findings: that, for one example, race and class affinities tend to express themselves in social networks. When MySpace was still a thing, for example, there was a sharp race and class divide between Facebook and that site.
Here's one more piece of evidence for the "Facebook: It's Just Like the Real World!" thesis. In a study just published in the journal Physica A, a group of researchers analyzed Facebook data from university students across 100 schools. The data represent a snapshot of a single day in 2005, during the early (and .edu-address-required) days of the network. The data set allowed the researchers -- Amanda L. Traud of North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Peter J. Mucha of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; and Mason Porter of the University of Oxford -- to compare social structures across different educational institutions: small versus large, public versus private, single-sex versus co-ed, etc.