Culture Impacting on Social Network Use

By February 20, 2013

Comparing Facebook in the United States and Ozone in China, social network use appears to reflect the disparity between these two very different cultures.


At the present time United States residents of college age accord more importance to online social networks than their counterparts in China, and spend more time on them. This is one of the findings of a surve* carried out by Linda Jackson, a Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. The survey reveals that these young Americans spend on average twice as much time per day on social networks as the Chinese – on average 58 minutes compared with 29. Jackson believes that the reason for the discrepancy lies in cultural differences. This also seems to reflect the findings of a previous study on the profile photos chosen by Facebook account holders. This showed that the type of photo chosen depended on the country of origin of the user.

‘Me-first’ culture versus the ‘collective-good’ mentality

Jackson’s study shows close to a fifth (19%) of the young Chinese polled reporting that they almost never use social networking sites, compared to just 4% in the United States who said the same. The reason for this appears to be that Chinese young adults prefer real-life get-togethers, rather than online relations such as those experienced on social networks. In contrast, young Americans believe that being active on social networks is automatically synonymous with being popular. Explains Jackson: “In the United States, it’s all about promoting yourself and taking credit for positive outcomes and denying blame for negative outcomes.” She contrasts this attitude with China, where: “It’s the opposite. If something bad happens, you take the blame and talk about how you can improve. If something good happens, the credit is shared for the good of the group.”

The role of parenting style

The Psychology Professor believes that this major contrast in the use of social networks can be explained by the values inculcated by parents. “Chinese parents emphasise effort as a means to achievement and success,” she points out, “and using social networking sites is not consistent with this focus as it takes away from schoolwork. Thus Chinese parents may discourage or even forbid their children from using social networking sites.” Finally, Jackson is quick to point out that the disparities are almost certainly not due to the number of computers the families have at home. “If Chinese students really wanted to go online more, they easily could, whether it’s at home or at school. It’s more of a motivation issue,” she concludes.

*Among 400+ residents of China and the United States aged 18-24 on their use of social network sites. The results are published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour.

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