Rethinking the Value of Digital Relationships

Facebook has become a digital corner drugstore where people meet, talk, exchange photos and gain trustThe rap on social networking sites is that they isolate people and substitute for in-person contact. New findings by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project suggest social networking sites breed closer relationships with deeper trust.

Facebook comes across in the Pew survey as the dominant player in this space, with 92 percent of the 2,255 adults interviewed saying they use the popular social networking site. Next closest is MySpace, which 29 percent of respondents say they use. Only 13 percent use Twitter, while 19 percent tap into LinkedIn.

Pew reports the number of people logging into social networking sites has doubled since 2008 and users are older.

How people use Facebook is revealing:

  • 15 percent of Facebook users update their own status;
  • 22 percent comment on another’s post or status;
  • 20 percent comment on another user’s photos;
  • 26 percent “Like” another user’s content; and
  • 10 percent send another user a private message.

Here are other excerpts from the report, which was released today:

Facebook users have more close relationships.

"The average American has just more than two discussion confidants (2.16) – that is, people with whom they discuss important matters. This is a modest, but significantly larger number than the average of 1.93 core ties reported when we asked this same question in 2008. Controlling for other factors we found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other internet users."

Facebook users are more trusting than others

"We asked people if they felt “that most people can be trusted.” When we used regression analysis to control for demographic factors, we found that the typical internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted. Further, we found that Facebook users are even more likely to be trusting. We used regression analysis to control for other factors and found that a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% 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."

Facebook users are much more politically engaged than most people

"Our survey was conducted over the November 2010 elections. At that time, 10 percent of Americans reported that they had attended a political rally, 23 percent reported that they had tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 66 percent reported that they had or intended to vote. Internet users in general were over twice as likely to attend a political meeting, 78percent more likely to try and influence someone’s vote, and 53 percent more likely to have voted or intended to vote. Compared with other internet users, and users of other SNS 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 an additional 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote."

Facebook users get more social support than other people

"We looked at how much total support, emotional support, companionship, and instrumental aid adults receive. On a scale of 100, the average American scored 75/100 on a scale of total support, 75/100 on emotional support (such as receiving advice), 76/100 in companionship (such as having people to spend time with), and 75/100 in instrumental aid (such as having someone to help if they are sick in bed).

Internet users in general score 3 points higher in total support, 6 points higher in companionship, and 4 points higher in instrumental support. A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional 5 points higher in total support, 5 points higher in emotional support, and 5 points higher in companionship, than internet users of similar demographic characteristics. 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.