Expert Commentary

Patterns and effects of social networking site use among young adults

2010 study in Information, Communication and Society on youth behaviors on social networking sites and implications for academic performance.


The Pew Internet and American Life Project has found that more than 70% of young adults in America use social networking sites (SNS). Studies have focused on how social media may shape our interests and preferences, and scholars have compared usage patterns among ethnic groups and communities with different interests. In addition, there has been more targeted academic research specifically on Facebook and Twitter users. Overall, scholars continue to explore how engagement with these sites affects well-being and the consequences for areas such as educational achievement.

A 2010 paper published in Information, Communication & Society, “Predictors and Consequences of Differentiated Practices on Social Network Sites,” analyzes the connection between SNS engagement and the academic performance of college freshman. The researchers collected grade point averages and data on the type and intensity of SNS engagement and the relationship for each student via a survey administered to 1,060 first-year college students at an ethnically diverse campus in the Midwest.  The study collected self-reports of participation in the social networking sites Bebo, Facebook, Friendster, MySpace, Orkut and Xanga; participants were classified by their SNS usage as “Omnivores” (frequent use of multiple SNSs), “Samplers” (infrequent use of multiple SNSs), “Devotees” (frequent use of a single SNS site), “Dabblers” (infrequent use of a single SNS use), or non-users.

Key study findings include:

  • The most prevalent pattern of SNS engagement is that of the omnivore; close to half of study participants — 45.3% — visited two or more sites often. Women (48.2%) are more likely to fall into the omnivore category than men (41.2%). Additionally, “The more committed users of such sites engage in more social activities on SNSs than those who spend less time on them and only use one such site.”
  • Women were also more likely to engage in stronger-tie activities — those with less social distance — than men, and omnivores are more likely to engage in both weaker-tie and stronger-tie activities on social networking sites.
  • Hispanic and African-American students were more likely to meet new friends, continue relationships that began solely online, and review strangers’ photos.
  • There was no correlation between a student’s participation in social networking online and his or her grade point average. The researchers explain that “social practices could both support (e.g. offer help with homework) and detract from (e.g. offer alternatives to focusing on school obligations) academic work, and thus their effects could cancel each other out.”
  • The researchers identified a positive correlation between a student’s facility using the Internet and academic achievement. However, they found that “neither SNS usage intensity nor social practices performed on these sites exhibit a systematic relationship with academic performance.”

Tags: communications, technology, Facebook, youth, social media

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