Commentary

Social Networks Are (Mostly) Happy Places, Pew Finds

85% of social network-using adults surveyed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project think people on social networks are “mostly kind,” compared with just 5% of respondents who said people on social networks are mostly unkind. Similarly, 39% of social network users surveyed said they frequently see acts of generosity on their networks, while another 36% say they sometimes see acts of generosity.

While many skeptics (sometimes including myself) like to cast doubt on the emotional connections forged on social media, the relationships are real enough to the people involved: according to the Pew survey, 61% of social network users had experiences that made them feel closer to another person, overlapping with 68% who said they had an experience that made them feel good about themselves.

By the same token, it’s not all wine and roses online: some 49% of social network-using adults report having witnessed mean and offensive behavior on social networking sites, and a significant proportion report having experienced a “negative outcome” themselves. These include 15% who said a friendship had been ended by something which happened on a social network; 12% who said a social network incident had led to a direct, face-to-face confrontation; and 11% who said it had caused a problem in their family. Overall 13% reported being on the receiving end of mean or cruel behavior in the past year.  3% reported getting into a physical fight because of something which happened on a social network.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the proportion of respondents experiencing negative outcomes was significantly higher among the teenage population. Among teens surveyed, 22% reported a friendship ending, 25% reported getting into a direct face-to-face confrontation, 13% reported a problem with their family, and 8% reported getting into a physical fight because of something which happened on a social network.

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