A recent study shows Facebook users are more trusting, politically active and socially supported than the general Internet population. Social networking sites may improve our lives in deeper ways than short-term entertainment.
A Pew Research study released this week analyzed Internet users, how they use social networking sites and "how use of these technologies is related to trust, tolerance, social support, and community and political engagement." Since most users of social networking are members of Facebook- 92 percent, and since many Facebook members access the site daily or several times per day, much of the analysis centers around these users.
On a typical day, Facebook users engage in certain activities on the site:
- 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
Internet users are more likely to believe that most people can be trusted, including frequent Facebook users. Facebook users also have nine percent more close relationships on average - the average American has 2.16 "discussion confidants," or people with whom they discuss serious matters.
Broader than close confidants, Facebook users get more social support than other people. While the average American scores around 75 points out of one hundred across support categories, Internet users score a few points higher, and Facebook users score even higher than that. For a user who uses the site multiple times per day, levels are five points higher in total, emotional and companionship support than Internet users. "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."
This group also skews more political - while Internet users were 53 percent more likely to have voted over the November 2010 election period, Facebook users were an additional 43 percent more likely to vote on top of that number.
Social networking also brings old contacts together - friends lists on average contain 22 percent high school classmates and nine percent college friends.
Contrary to popular perception that social networking sites are frivolous time wasters, the Pew survey uncovers many valuable contributions by these types of services to communities.