June 16, 2011

Social networking sites and our lives

Part 5: Conclusion

The report is the first national survey of how the use of social networking sites (SNS) by adults is related to people’s overall social networks. 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. We did find that people who are already likely to have large overall social networks – those with more years of education – gravitate to specific SNS platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The size of their overall networks is no larger (or smaller) than what we would expect given their existing characteristics and propensities.

However, total network size may not be as important as other factors – such as intimacy. Americans have more close social ties than they did two years ago. And they are less socially isolated. We found that the frequent use of Facebook is associated with having more overall close ties.

In addition, we found that only a small fraction of Facebook friends are people whom users have never met or met only once.

We find many outcomes associated with SNS use that cannot be explained by the demographic characteristics of those who uses these services. Facebook users are more trusting than similar Americans. MySpace users have a greater propensity to take multiple viewpoints. Facebook users have more social support, and they are much more politically engaged compared with Americans of a similar age and education.

The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology, especially in comparison to common predictors. A deficit of overall social ties, social support, trust, and community engagement is much more likely to result from traditional factors, such as lower educational attainment.