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

Magnus Torfason 

Wednesdays@NICO Seminar, Noon, May 1 2013, Chambers Hall, Lower Level

Prof. Magnus Torfason, Harvard Business School


This paper proposes that interpersonal relationships spanning social identity group boundaries play a key role in linking local and global norms, and in supporting social order. Specifically, it shows that social identity derived from group memberships moderates the effects of social relationships on pro-social norm observance. Using a novel empirical setting consisting of a large online virtual environment, the paper demonstrates 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, it shows that network closure has a qualitatively different effect between within-group ties and across-group ties. The findings illustrate the need for a more nuanced view of the complex interrelations between institutions, identity, and networks.


Magnus Thor Torfason is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on how behavior is influenced by the social structure of individuals and organizations. One research stream explores how social networks and group identities jointly affect adherence to social norms of behavior. Another research stream examines norms within exchange networks, including VC investment networks and transactions using electronic currency. A third stream focuses on the ecology of network weaving organizations, whose main purpose is to provide connections between other actors.