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Testing the validity of social capital measures in the study of information and communication technologies


Social capital has been considered a cause and consequence of various uses of new information and communication technologies (ICTs). However, there is a growing divergence between how social capital is commonly measured in the study of ICTs and how it is measured in other fields. This departure raises questions about the validity of some of the most widely cited studies of social capital and ICTs. We compare the Internet Social Capital Scales (ISCS) developed by Williams (2006) – a series of psychometric scales commonly used to measure “social capital” – to established, structural measures of social capital: name, position, and resource generators. Based on a survey of 880 undergraduate students (the population to which the ISCS has been most frequently administered), we find that, unlike structural measures, the ISCS does not distinguish between the distinct constructs of bonding and bridging social capital. The ISCS does not have convergent validity with structural measures of bonding or bridging social capital; it does not measure the same concept as structural measures. The ISCS conflates social capital with the related constructs of social support and attachment. The ISCS does not measure perceived or actual social capital. These findings raise concerns about the interpretations of existing studies of “social capital” and ICTs that are based on the ISCS. Given the absence of measurement validity, we urge those studying social capital to abandon the ISCS in favor of alternative approaches.

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