From Power to Status in Large Scale Online Exchanges
Online social networks where the main purpose of interaction is the acquisition of specific resources of interest represent a promising venue for the study of social exchange. Sociological theories dating back to the 1960’s postulate that inequality in resource possession leads to power imbalances. Actors lacking a certain desired resource find themselves in a position of dependence on resource owners. In turn, Power-Dependence Theory predicts that this power-unequal situation induces behavior that may bring relationships closer to a more balanced state. Among the power-balancing mechanisms, status giving figures as an internalized way in which a low-power actor may attempt to lessen their dependence on a more powerful partner. This prediction has not been tested in large, real-world contexts, however. To this end, we analyze data from CouchSurfing.org, an international online hospitality exchange network, to test predictions regarding status giving at a massive scale not addressed before in previous work. We explore the power imbalance inherent in the relationship between “hosts” (i.e., resource owners) and “surfers” and use mutual user-reported ratings to quantify status-giving. We demonstrate a statistically significant tendency for CouchSurfers to give status to their hosts.