Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Yesterday, I noted a recently released study of Facebook. S. Craig Watkins and H. Erin Lee of the Department of Radio-Television-Film of the University of Texas at Austin have published “Got Facebook? Investigating What’s Social About Social Media.” (You can download the PDF here.) Watkins and Lee argue, on the basis of extensive research, that use of Facebook actually makes us more social in measurable ways.

Here are a few more excerpts from “Got Facebook?”

Our findings further allow us to address the question, What is social about social media? The proliferation of new communication technologies–laptops, smart phones, gaming devices, social network sites–compels many to argue that humans have become less social and, as a result, less interested in their friends and neighbors. Our findings suggest that Facebook is not supplanting face-to-face interactions between friends, family and colleagues. In fact, we believe there is sufficient evidence that social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy, and community.

When asked to rate their level of agreement to the statement, “I wish I could spend less time on Facebook than I currently do,” only about 20% of ther respondents report that they agree or strongly agree. About 40% report that they disagree or strongly disagree, suggesting that the majority of our respondents either are content with their current level of time spent on Facebook or would not mind spending more time on the site.

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The study also found some interesting differences between male and female Facebook practices:

Still, there are some interesting distinctions among young Facebook
users. For example, women and men use the platform but often in
different ways. Women, when compared to men, are much more likely to use
Facebook to communicate about or share content related to friends and
family. Men, by contrast, are much more likely to communicate about or
share content related to pop culture, the news, or current events.

Compared to female students, males are more likely to list their political and religious views.

Women are more likely to do things such as post comments and “likes” to
their profile, suggesting a greater tendency than men to engage in
personal communication.

Women are much more likely than men to post photos to their profiles.
Photos are an important way to share fun and important personal
experiences with friends as well as build and maintain an online
identity.

Men tend to use Facebook more than women to post links to current events and news- related topics.

Men are significantly more likely than women to post videos to their Facebook profile.

Watkins and Lee have provided some solid data for a discussion of the social impact of Facebook. They leave many stones unturned, of course. For example, I would be interested to know if people who use Facebook frequently spend more or less time in face-to-face relationships. It would also be interesting to discover more about the kind of people who use Facebook. I wonder, for example, if introverts might find Facebook to be a more comfortable medium, especially in the “getting acquainted” stage of a relationship.

It would be hard to measure, but I am also curious about the quality of relationships experienced by people who spend lots of time interacting with others digitally. It seems to me that frequent texters and Facebook users might have many more casual friends, but less depth in their relationships. Yet, Facebook may also encourage long term connections between people, and this might contribute to greater relational depth.

I continue to be interested in your responses. Does Facebook enhance your social experience? If so, how? If not, why not?

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