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 self-esteem 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.
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 block them from accessing your profile.”
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,” said Dr Mathews.
The time-consuming nature of online social networking was seen as a disadvantage by nearly 60% of respondents.
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.