Online Social Networking Increases Social Connectedness Interview Online social networking increases, rather than reduces, face-to-face socialising, although a significant number of people have had bad experiences online, according to an Australian Psychological Society survey released today.
The Social and Psychological Impact of Online Social Networking survey of adults revealed more than a quarter of respondents actually attended more social gatherings with family and friends since using online social networking.
This research supports recent studies into social networking and contradicts popular claims that sites like Facebook reduce face-to-face contact and increase isolation.
Survey respondents said they use social networking sites to keep in touch with friends (88%) and family (58%) and to find out what other people are doing (60%). And 68% use Facebook to keep in touch with people who live far away.
Australian Psychological Society (APS) researcher Dr Rebecca Mathews said that despite earlier studies suggesting online social networking reduced social skills and increased people's sense of isolation, the APS found the social networking phenomenon had the opposite effect.
"Our respondents said rather than replacing their 'offline' gatherings, Facebook actually increased the amount of time they spent socialising with friends and family," she said. "These findings are significant because we know strong social connections enhance people's selfesteem and mental health while providing support and a sense of belonging," Dr Mathews said.
The survey of 1834 respondents also found more than half of 18 to 30 year olds felt they would lose contact with many of their friends if they stopped using social networking sites.
But there's still a downside to logging on
Almost one in three people said they'd been harassed, received unwelcome contact or had someone post inappropriate or unwanted information about them online.
Young adults were most affected, with 60% of those aged below 30 reporting bad experiences. Dr Mathews said these figures highlighted the importance of implementing online strategies to ensure more positive interactions.
"It's vital to protect yourself online and address unwanted behaviour as quickly as possible," she said.
"If you're experiencing negative interactions with someone online, stop communication and blockthem from accessing your profile."
Social networking to find love
When it came to finding love online, one in four 31 to 50 year-olds revealed they had dated someone they met through a site like Facebook, while one in five had formed an ongoing intimate relationship through social networking.
"Being able to meet people online has opened up more possibilities for both friendship and love," saidDr Mathews.
Spending too much time online
The time-consuming nature of online social networking was seen as a disadvantage by nearly 60% ofrespondents. This was also a major concern for young adults, with 70% of 18 to 30 year olds saying they wasted too much time online.
"While Facebook has become an integral part of modern day communication, if time online is interfering with your life, and your relationships or work are suffering it may indicate a problem," Dr Mathews said.
Tips for Positive Online Social Networking
A survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society for National Psychology Week 2010 has revealed how social networking is now used by Australians of all ages to keep in contact with family and friends near and far. There are strategies for ensuring that people's experience on these websites is positive, and help to enhance their social wellbeing.
Optimise the benefits:
If you move to different geographic area or have less time to meet with friends in person, consider communicating with them online to maintain your friendship.
Inform yourself about security options. Talk to your friends or family about how to use the sites and read up on the options you have to make your personal information secure.
Use your profile in a positive way:
Communicate with people who have similar interests, organise social events and share information that you are comfortable with having on the internet.
Be in control of your online interactions:
If you are experiencing negative interactions with someone online, stop communicating with them and consider blocking them from access to your profile.
If you feel that you are being bullied by someone, think about how you can prevent the person from having access to your profile and talk to someone about what is happening.
Be respectful of others:
Think carefully prior to posting other people's personal information, including posting pictures or making comments about them on your site.
Don't be a bully:
It's easy to make comments about others that can be hurtful or offensive. Think carefully about what you post.
Avoid going online more than you plan:
If you think you are using online networking sites too often, think about restricting yourself to a certain amount of time per day or week.
Have a process for screening people who request to be your friend:
Consider the following: How well do you know them? How did they come to seek to want to be your friend? Remember, you don't have to accept every friend request.
Be aware of the information that you post:
Never share personal information like your mobile phone number or address. Close friends should already have this information.
Remember that information you post online can stay there permanently, so think carefully about what you are posting.
Don't post anything online that you would normally only disclose to a close friend. When communicating online you can be drawn into providing information that you did not intend to share.
Some aspects of social networking sites are open to all members so only post information in those sections that you are comfortable sharing with strangers.
Meeting someone face-to-face:
If you really want to meet up with someone that you have only communicated with online ensure you meet in a public space, tell someone where you are going and and if possible take a friend with you.
Interview with Dr. Rebecca MathewsQuestion: Were you surprised that online social networking increases, rather than reduces, face-to-face socialising?
Dr Rebecca Mathews: We conducted the study specifically to find out both the positives and negatives of online social networking. There had been some past research indicating that online social networking leads to isolation and a loss of social skills as it reduces face-to-face contact. Essentially, we wanted to test this and given these arguments in the past, I guess the findings were surprising.
Question: How did this study show that online social networking increases, rather than reduces, face-to-face socialising?
Dr Rebecca Mathews: 79% of people reported that it helped them keep in touch with people who lived far away
53% of people said that it allowed them to speak to people more regularly
26% of people said they were attending more social events with friends and family
43% had used it to locate old friends
52% of people aged 18 - 30 believed that they would lose some friends if they stopped using online social networking.
Question: How can we ensure that we're not spending too much time online using social networking sites?
Dr Rebecca Mathews: One of our tips is to plan how much time per day or week you want to spend on these sites. For example, you may set a particular time each day, such as in the evening after dinner, to get online.
Question: Do you believe that some friendships are becoming too dependent on Facebook?
Dr Rebecca Mathews: We did not look at dependency or addiction to being online. However, participants did report that they believed they would lose friends if they were not online. This suggests that those friendships are specific to the online social networking site (e.g., not friends they meet face-to-face or friends they communicate with in any other way). Hence, these friendships may be dependent on being online. However, the survey also showed that some people were catching up more with friends and family face-to-face and these relationships are clearly not dependent on being online but being online led to more communication with these people both online and off.
Question: Were you surprised that just three per cent of respondents aged 18 to 30 did not have a Facebook profile?
Dr Rebecca Mathews: This was interesting and reflected just how much this has become part of communication for young adults.
Interview by Brooke Hunter