Abstract - The Information Society 18(5)

Strong, Weak and Latent Ties and the Impact of New Media

Caroline Haythornthwaite

This paper argues that consideration of the strength of ties between communicators can help reconcile disparate results on the impact of new media on social relations. It is argued from the research literature and studies by the author that where ties are strong communicators can influence each other to adapt and expand their use of media to support the exchanges important to their tie; but where ties are weak communicators are dependent on common, organizationally-established means of communication and protocols established by others. Due to this differential use of media, a new medium that adds means and opportunities for previously unconnected others to communicate will have positive effects on weak ties and weak-tie networks, in particular by laying an infrastructure of latent ties (ones that exist technically but have not yet been activated), and providing an opportunity for weak ties to develop and strengthen. A new medium may also have positive effects on strongly tied pairs where it adds another means of communicating and supports the communication needs and tasks of the pair. However, where a new medium replaces a former, common means of communication, the dependence of weak ties on a common medium makes weak-tie networks highly susceptible to dissolution. By contrast, strong tie networks, with their connections via multiple relations and multiple media can be expected to be more robust under conditions of change.

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