From Power to Status in Large Scale Online Exchanges

Bogdan State
Bruno Abrahao
Web of Science

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, 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.