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Delay tolerant networks (DTNs) may lack continuous network connectivity. Routing in DTNs is thus challenging since it must handle network partitioning, long delays, and dynamic topology in such networks. In recent years, social-based approaches, which attempt to exploit social behaviors of DTN nodes to make better routing decision, have drawn tremendous interests in DTN routing design. In this article, we summarize the social properties in DTNs, and provide a survey of recent social-based DTN routing approaches. To improve routing performance, these methods either take advantages of positive social characteristics such as community and friendship to assist packet forwarding or consider negative social characteristics such as selfishness. We conclude by discussing some open issues and challenges in social-based approaches regarding the design of DTN routing protocols.