We've heard that Facebook can make teens depressed, wreck marriages, even kill couples' sex lives. But a new study finds the users of the social networking site are more trusting in general, have closer relationships and are more "politically engaged" than those who aren't busy friending others and sharing the activities and emotions of day-to-day life.
The "use of social networking sites is growing" and "those who use these sites, especially Facebook users, have higher measures of social well-being," said the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in a report, "Social networking sites and our lives."
Pew also found that "the average Facebook user has 229 Facebook friends, with many of them being high school acquaintances and pals that they've either stayed in touch with, or with whom they've re-connected.
"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,” said Keith Hampton, lead author of the report and assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement.
“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.”
Pew surveyed 2,255 American adults last fall. More people — 47 percent — are now using social networking sites, including Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace, than in 2008, when only 26 percent said they did so. The average age of adult social networking sites was 38 in 2010, compared to 33 in 2008, Pew said; more than half of all adult users of such site are now over age 35.
While 92 percent of those surveyed said they're on Facebook, 29 percent said they use MySpace; 18 percent, LinkedIn; and 13 percent, Twitter.
Among the organization's findings about Facebook users:
- They're "more trusting than others." A Facebook user "who uses the site multiple times per day is 43 percent 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."
- They have "more close relationships." A person who uses Facebook "several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users."
- They are "much more politically engaged." As Pew notes, its survey was done during election season last fall. "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 percent more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote." MySpace users, in contrast, "are the least politically active" among social networking site users; "only 9 percent" said they attended a political rally, 18 percent said they "attempted to influence someone's vote and 57 percent voted or intended to vote."
- They "get more social support." A Facebook user who "uses the site multiple times per day receives more emotional support and companionship" than those who aren't on the site. "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," Pew said. Their friends' list breaks down this way: 22 percent are people from high school; 12 percent are extended family; 10 percent are co-workers; 9 percent are college friends; 8 percent are immediate family; 7 percent are connections made through voluntary groups; 2 percent are neighbors.
But, Pew noted, the remaining 30 percent or so of Facebook friends "cannot be classified" into any of those categories. And 3 percent of Facebook friends are people users say they have never met in person, while 7 percent are people they have met only once.
"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," Pew found.
The research organization also gauged what specific Facebook activities users do daily. On an average day:
- 15 percent of Facebook users update their own status.
- 22 percent comment on another's post or status.
- 20 percent comment on another user's photos.
- 26 percent add the notation "like" to another user's content.
- 10 percent send another user a private message, one that is not shared on Facebook's site.
While some view Facebook a virtual meeting place for those with a certain viewpoint, Pew said that's not the case.
"MySpace users are more likely to be open to opposing points of view," but "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."
And among the stats about users of all social networks, Pew found:
- "As with the use of most social media, (social networking site) users are disproportionately female (56 percent)." Women also comprise the majority of email users (52 percent), users of instant messaging (55 percent), bloggers (54 percent) and those who use a photo-sharing service (58 percent), such as Flickr or Picasa.
- Facebook and Twitter are "used much more frequently by their users than LinkedIn and MySpace. Some 52 percent of Facebook users and 33 percent of Twitter users engage with the platform daily, while only 7 percent of MySpace users and 6 percent of LinkedIn users do the same. By comparison, 62 percent of MySpace users, 40 percent of Twitter users and 44 percent of LinkedIn users engage" on those sites less than once a month. Only 6 percent of Facebook users say they're involved with the site less than once a month.
- Nearly twice as many men (63 percent) as women (37 percent) use LinkedIn, a professional social networking site.
- 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 SNS users (35).
- 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.
No matter which social networking site people use, the sites have "become increasingly important to people as they find ways to integrate check-ins and updates into the rhythms of their lives,” said Lee Rainie, Pew Internet Project director, and 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."
Related stories about Facebook:
- Red Tape: Should 10-year-olds use Facebook? What's your policy?
- Facebook: Marriage killer?
- Contemplating divorce? Beware social networks
- Docs warn about teens and 'Facebook depression'
- Your mom — and grandma — are probably on Facebook