Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2012

With Us or Against Us? Networks, Identity and Order in a Virtual World

by Magnus Thor Torfason


Social networks and social groups have both been seen as important to discouraging malfeasance and supporting the global pro-social norms that underlie social order, but have typically been treated either as pure substitutes or as having completely independent effects. In this paper, I propose that interpersonal relationships between individuals with different social identities play a key role in linking local and global norms, and in supporting social order. Specifically, I show that social identity derived from group memberships moderates the effects of social relationships on pro-social norm observance. I test my predictions using a novel empirical setting consisting of a large online virtual environment. I show that the number of within-group relationships increases and the number of an individual's across-group relationships reduces the prevalence of anti-normative behavior. Furthermore, I show that network closure has a qualitatively different effect between within-group ties and across-group ties. The effects of within-group and across-group ties are moderated by both group characteristics and actor experience, providing boundary conditions on the mechanisms presented here. My findings illustrate the need for a more nuanced view of the complex interrelations between institutions, identity, and networks.

Keywords: Social Norms; social networks; Triadic Closure; Social groups; Group Identity; Groups and Teams; Boundaries; Organizations; Identity; Social and Collaborative Networks; Societal Protocols;


Torfason, Magnus Thor. "With Us or Against Us? Networks, Identity and Order in a Virtual World." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-019, August 2012. (Revise and Resubmit, American Journal of Sociology.)