June 16, 2011

Social networking sites and our lives

Part 1: Introduction

The impact of social networking sites on users’ lives

There has been a great deal of speculation about the impact of social networking sites (SNS) on users’ lives. Some fear that SNS use might diminish human relationships and contact, perhaps increasing social isolation. Others exult that pervasive connectivity using technology will add to people’s stores of social capital and lead to other social payoffs.

We tackle these important issues with the results of what we believe is the first national, representative survey of American adults on their use of SNS and their overall social networks. Some 2,255 American adults were surveyed between October 20-November 28, 2010, including 1,787 internet users. There were 975 users of SNS such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter.1

In this report, we recognize that there is a great deal of variation in how people use SNS, in the types of platforms that are available, and the types of people that are attracted to different sites. We pull these variables apart and provide a detailed picture of what SNS users look like, which SNS platforms different people use, and the relationship between uses of technology and the size and structure of people’s overall social networks. We also examine the amount of support SNS users receive from their social ties, their ability to consider multiple view points, their levels of social trust, and their community, civic, and political participation, and we compare them with users and non-users of other technologies.

We also provide an update to findings first published in 2009 in Pew Internet’s report on “Social Isolation and New Technologies”[1]. In that report, we examined concerns that the number and diversity of American’s closest social ties had declined over the preceding two decades because of technology use. We found that while there had been a decline in the size and diversity of people’s closest relationships, it was not related to the use of the internet or mobile phone. In most cases use of the internet and cell phones was associated with larger and more diverse social networks. Given the rapid uptake in the use of SNS since 2009, and interest surrounding how the use of these services influences people’s offline and online relationships, we revisit this issue with new data on the extent of social isolation in America.

  1. 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 SNS users is plus or minus 4 percentage points.