National survey findings show that use of social networking sites is growing and that those who use these sites, especially Facebook users, have higher measures of social well-being.
In a national phone survey of 2,255 American adults last fall, the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that controlling for other factors, 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.
The research found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users. 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.
The survey also explored how much total social support, emotional support, companionship and instrumental aid (such as having someone help you when you are sick in bed) adults receive. Controlling for other factors, a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day receives more emotional support and companionship. 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.
"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, the lead author of the Pew Internet report. "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."
The survey also showed that more people are using social networking sites-the figure is now 47 percent of the entire adult population, compared with 26 percent that was measured in the company's similar 2008 survey. Among other things, this means the average age of adult social network site (SNS) users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult SNS users are now over the age of 35.
"Facebook has become the dominant social networking platform in terms of both number of users and frequency of use, and it is striking to note that the makeup of the population is changing," noted Lauren Sessions Goulet, co-author of the report. "We also found interesting variation in the characteristics of users across different social networking sites. People pick the platforms which best meet their social and professional needs."
For the survey, 2,255 American adults were questioned between Oct. 20 and Nov. 28, 2010, including 1,787 Internet users. There were 975 users of SNS such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter. The margin of error on the entire survey is ??3 percentage points, on the Internet users is ??3 percentage points, and for the SNS users is ??4 percentage points, according to the company.