Data from Facebook and Instagram will uncover the strength of the UK’s ‘social capital’ - RSA

Data from Facebook and Instagram will uncover the strength of the UK’s ‘social capital’

Press release

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Social innovation
  • Work and employment

London, 21 November 2023 -  Today, the royal society for the arts, manufactures and commerce (RSA) announces a new research project which is the first of its kind in the UK.

We will be working with the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in partnership with Stripe Partners and Neighbourly Lab, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. 

The partners are working with Meta’s ‘Data for Good programme’ and for the first time, we will leverage insights from social ties data from Facebook to better understand how all forms of social connections between people affect the opportunities they have in their lives. 

The project, which kicks off this week, will mirror the ground-breaking work done in the USA headed by Raj Chetty, Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. 

The Harvard team used Facebook and Instagram data to show that friendships between people of different classes and social economic groups helped users to find support, information, and opportunities. People with these kinds of connections are said to have more ‘social capital’. 

Alongside our partners, our research will draw on equivalent UK data to examine how social capital relates to factors in people’s lives like health, education, and employment. These factors are said to determine a person’s ‘social mobility’ which is the change in an individual's socio-economic situation, in relation to their parents or during their lifetime. 

Dr Celestin Okoroji, Head of Research, RSA, said: “By exploring different types of social capital, we can show how they affect social mobility, health, and education. We will use these data to understand what happens when some people have more social capital than others and what sorts of policies and programmes might help to increase opportunities across the UK.”

Dr Antonio Silva, Head of Social Cohesion at BIT and the project’s principal investigator, said: “BIT is excited to lead this project, combining big data, qualitative work in communities and policy development to answer not just ‘why does social connection matter?’ but ‘what can we do to foster it?’ too. As the largest social networking site in the world, working with Meta provides a unique opportunity to understand our social connections and how they affect our lives.”

On Meta’s contribution to the project, Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs, Meta, said: “Rigorous, independent research is the best way to help us understand the impact that the social connections people make on platforms like Facebook and Instagram have on the world. This new partnership will help us deepen our understanding of the relationship between social connections and economic opportunity in the UK.”  which is the first of its kind in the UK. 

Our research 

The insights from Facebook and Instagram will be supplemented by fieldwork in four demographically similar areas of the UK which have differing levels of social capital to stress-test whether the data is mirrored in real life. The RSA will also bring together people who have a role in building social capital such as teachers, community leaders and social workers to envision and design practical ways to improve social capital and social mobility in the UK. 



About the Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The work of BIT, the RSA, Stripe and the Neighbourly Lab on this project is funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

About the Behavioral Insights Team

BIT is a global leader in using behavioural science research to design services, policies, and interventions that improve people’s lives. BIT was established by the UK government in 2010 and in 2014 became an independent social purpose company. In 2021, BIT became wholly-owned by innovation agency, Nesta.

About the RSA

We are the RSA. The royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce. Where world-leading ideas are turned into world-changing actions. We’re committed to a world that is resilient, rebalanced, and regenerative, where everyone can fulfil their potential.

The RSA has been at the forefront of significant social impact for over 260 years. Our proven change process, rigorous research, innovative ideas platforms and unique global network of changemakers, work collectively to enable people, places, and the planet to flourish.

Social connections

Working with Meta's 'Data for Good programme' we will leverage insights from Facebook data to better understand how all forms of social connections between people affect the opportunities they have in their lives. We call this ‘social capital’.

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