Discussion: criticism for social exchange theory?

During our class, we briefly talked about criticism for social exchange theory. Do you think social exchange theory is far-fetched in terms of its over-gerneralized description of users’ motivations for social media use? If so, what is your rationale? Otherwise, in what ways can this theory retain persuasive power? Can you provide any relevant examples?

4 thoughts on “Discussion: criticism for social exchange theory?

  1. The social exchange theory cannot be completely dismissed in its application to social media – one very popular and good example will be instagram users who ‘like’ another user’s pictures or ‘follow’ another user’s account, commenting a “Like back?” or a “Follow back?”. There are also hashtags such as “#Likeforlike, #FollowforFollow” etc, those words in itself is transactional and self explanatory. What is interesting is that these instagram accounts users usually have zero mutual social network with the other users that they exchange these connections with, so the instagram relationship they have are purely transactional through ‘likes’ or ‘follows’. This phenomenon has

    The weighing of costs and benefits, and even the equation itself (Behaviour[profit] = Reward of interaction – cost of interaction) seemingly projects business transactions onto personal relationships. I personally think that it is too far-fetched to over-generalize everyone’s social media motivation in this sense and it can be a little harsh. The theory assumes all humans are calculative and self-serving in their personal relationships. However, like many social theories, it differs according to the individual.
    Do all social interaction have to be an exchange? Some food for thought since we are considering this theory in application to social media – Social media has also brought about so much convenience that the costs of social interaction (in terms of effort, time, ease of communicating etc) has been greatly reduced to almost none except, perhaps a few taps on your phone screen.

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    • Well, while reading your posting, what comes to my mind was the digital humanitarian example we went over in the last meeting. Yes, people’s motivation behind participation and engagement could be very diverse, and some people might be purely altruistic and politically righteous and those motivations can drive the actions.
      Maybe for some political or activist cases, social exchange theory might not work very well. What else can we come up with as other examples?
      Jasmine revolution (political revolt through twitter against political regime in the Middle East and North African nations in 2010) might be the case as the people wanted to mobilize support for social justice/change rather than seeking any sort of power/attention/authority in return for participation… Maybe I am wrong… too oversimplifying or naive to judge thier endeavors as purely altruistic… Any other thoughts?

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  2. Hey Jolyn,

    I really like your example using Instagram to highlight our use of social exchange theory in real life. However I do think you’re oversimplifying the ‘exchange’ that occurs with social media. Although it is true that our online interaction has been reduced to the click of a button for the most part, there is still a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the way we evaluate this interaction. For example with the #Follow forFollow or #LikeforLike hashtags, there still needs to be content to ‘like’ or ‘follow’. It is unlikely that we would follow users whose content are not similar to ours or not something appealing to us. Furthermore we may be subconsciously evaluating what consequences following or liking certain pages may have on us (Will it look bad to others? Will it improve my own image? Can I grow my network through this person? etc.). On the flip side, every time we post something on our page there are similar considerations about what certain content can reflect on ourselves and the image we wish to project. In that sense I do believe that all social interactions include some sort of exchange even though it may not be explicitly shown, it will manifest itself at the subconscious level right before we double tap the screen 🙂

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    • Interesting point! Especially, when I check my facebook newsfeed, I feel the same way. Maybe, people might want to exchange “attention” or likings through liking and commenting behaviours. For example, some people might just click likes even without taking any burden of reading it just in order to get more likings or drive attention to their own post or homepage. And usually there might be a correlation between the number of likings made for others and the number of likings received. Or, it might be a sort of “peer pressure” to maintain favorable relationship with others by showing some attention and engagement. And the relationship is a two-way street and so people need to be a bit calculative in terms of gauging the quality of relationship and the amount of time and effort put in the relationship. And so might be the online relationship and online behaviours.

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