For increasing numbers of people, sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are becoming crucial platforms for communicating with friends, family and work colleagues. Just as the mass-market introduction of phones, radio and the telegram changed patterns of emotional, social and political interaction across society, so too are Internet-based technologies and applications now. Precisely how these changes will play out, though, is just emerging.
A 2011 Pew Research Center study, “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives,” surveyed more than 2,000 Americans in late 2010 to look at how use of social networking sites is linked to development of trust, tolerance, social support, and community and political engagement.
The study’s findings include:
Nearly 80% of American adults regularly use the Internet, and nearly 60% of Internet users said they use at least one social networking site (SNS). This is nearly double the rate since 2008.
According to the survey, Facebook is the most popular SNS, with over 90% of those who said they used SNS responding that they had accounts.
When asked if “most people can be trusted,” 46% of Internet users responded affirmatively, compared to 27% of non-Internet users; Facebook users were 43% more trusting than other Internet users.
Users of SNS were predominantly female (56%); the exception was LinkedIn, where there were nearly twice as many men (63%) as women (37%).
Internet users in general were more than twice as likely to attend a political meeting; they were also 78% more likely to try to influence someone’s vote, and 53% more likely to have voted or intended to vote.
Internet users scored, on average, 3 points higher on a 100 scale measure of self-reported perceived “support” they receive (emotional, companionship, and instrumental); Facebook users scored, on average, 5 points higher.
The researchers conclude that “the findings suggests that there is little validity to concerns that people who use SNS experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity.”