Benefits of Browsing? The Prevalence, Nature, and Effects of Profile Consumption Behavior in Social Network Sites

Miriam Metzger
Christo Wilson
Ben Y. Zhao

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC), Vol. 23, No. 2, March 2018.

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Paper Abstract

This study examines the effects of profile browsing on social network sites (SNSs) on social capital via information propagation between users. We analyze data from a study of 42 million users of the Chinese equivalent of Facebook called Renren, with over 1.8 million profile browsing events collected unobtrusively from the network to understand the prevalence and nature of "passive" profile browsing versus more visible forms of social interaction. Results show that profile browsing is more frequent than visible interaction on the SNS and can be modeled on the basis of a user's network size, account longevity, and production or reception of visible content. Drawing upon scholarship on social capital, we then evaluate the capacity of profile browsing to propagate information within the network and thus to affect bridging social capital. Our results challenge some commonly-held notions about profile consumption behavior on SNSs and its capacity to increase social capital.