Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Social networking sites and our lives

Facebook users are more trusting, have more close friends, are more politically engaged, and get more support from their friends

The highest proportion of Facebook friends is high school classmates, and Facebook helps revive “dormant” ties with lost connections

Washington (June 16, 2011) – New national survey findings show that use of social networking sites is growing and that those who use these sites, especially Facebook users, have higher measures of social well-being.

In a national phone survey of 2,255 American adults last fall, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that:

  • Facebook users are more trusting than others. Controlling for other factors, the research found that a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.
  • Facebook users have more close relationships.  Controlling for other factors, the research found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users.
  • Facebook users are much more politically engaged. The survey was conducted over the November 2010 election season. Compared with other internet users, and users of other social networking platforms, a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day was an additional two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and  43% more likely to have said they would vote.
  • Facebook users get more social support. The survey explored how much total social support, emotional support, companionship, and instrumental aid (such as having someone help you when you are sick in bed) adults receive. Controlling for other factors, a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day receives more emotional support and companionship. For Facebook users, the additional boost is equivalent to about half the total support that the average American receives as a result of being married or cohabitating with a partner.
  • Facebook helps users retain high school ties and it revives dormant relationships. In our sample, the average Facebook user has 229 Facebook friends. They reported that their friends list contains:
  • 22% people from high school
  • 12% extended family
  • 10% coworkers
  • 9% college friends
  • 8% immediate family
  • 7% people from voluntary groups
  • 2% neighbors

Over 31% of Facebook friends cannot be classified into these categories. However, only 3% of Facebook friends are people users have never met in person, and only 7% are people who have met only one time. The remainder is friends-of-friends and social ties that are not currently active relationships, but “dormant” ties that were meaningful once and have been at least somewhat maintained through use of Facebook.

“There has been a great deal of speculation about the impact of social networking site use on people’s social lives, and much of it has centered on the possibility that these sites are hurting users’  relationships and pushing them away from participating in the world,” noted Prof. Keith Hampton, the lead author of the new Pew Internet report. “We’ve found the exact opposite – that people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities.”

This survey also showed that more people are using social networking sites – the figure is now 47% of the entire adult population, compared with 26% that was measured in our similar 2008 survey. Among other things, this means the average age of adult social networking site users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010.  Over half of all adult social networking site users are now over the age of 35.

In Pew Internet’s first-ever reading on specific Facebook activities, the survey found that on an average day:

  • 15% of Facebook users update their own status.
  • 22% comment on another’s post or status.
  • 20% comment on another user’s photos.
  • 26% “Like” another user’s content.
  • 10% send another user a private message

“Facebook has become the dominant social networking platform in terms of both number of users and frequency of use, and it is striking to note that the makeup of the population is changing,” noted Lauren Sessions Goulet, co-author of the report. We also found interesting variation in the characteristics of users across different social networking sites. People pick the platforms which best meet their social and professional needs.”

For instance, the report found:

  • Nearly twice as many men (63%) as women (37%) use LinkedIn.
  • The average adult MySpace user is younger (32), and the average adult LinkedIn user older (40), than the average Facebook user (38), Twitter user (33), and users of other social networking sites (35).
  • MySpace and Twitter users are the most racially diverse mainstream social network platforms.
  • MySpace users tend to have fewer years of formal education than users of other social network services, whereas most LinkedIn users have at least one university degree.

There were several other surprises in the survey the authors found notable:

  • Social networking sites are increasingly used to keep up with close social ties. Looking at those people that social networking site users report as their core discussion confidants, 40% of users have friended all of their closest confidants. This is a substantial increase from the 29% of users who reported in our 2008 survey that they had friended all of their core confidants.
  • MySpace users are more likely to be open to opposing points of view. We measured “perspective taking,” or the ability of people to consider multiple points of view. There is no evidence that social networking site users, including those who use Facebook, are any more likely than others to cocoon themselves in social networks of like-minded and similar people, as some have feared. Moreover, regression analysis found that those who use MySpace have significantly higher levels of perspective taking.

“Social networking sites have become increasingly important to people as they find ways to integrate check-ins and updates into the rhythms of their lives,” noted Lee Rainie, a co-author of the report. “People use them now to stay in touch with their best friends and distant acquaintances alike. But the story hasn’t ended. It’s clear that the world of networked individuals will continue to change as the platforms and populations of users continue to evolve.”

In this survey, 2,255 American adults were surveyed between October 20-November 28, 2010, including 1,787 internet users. There were 975 users of social networking site such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The margin of error on the entire survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points, on the internet users is plus or minus 3 percentage points, and for the social networking site users is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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