Contrary to popular opinion, Facebook is making us more social,
albeit in ways unique to the digital age, according to new
research at The University of Texas at Austin.
While the social network site ? the most visited site in the
world ? is helping to close the social media generational gap,
it's being used differently by men and women, and by current
college students versus recent college graduates.
The study, led by S. Craig Watkins, associate professor of
radio-TV-film, is the first to examine the distinct ways in which
engagement with Facebook is evolving into a multi-faceted social
experience. Radio-TV-Film doctoral candidate H. Erin Lee helped
with the survey design and data analysis.
"Our findings indicate that Facebook is not supplanting
face-to-face interactions among friends, family and colleagues,"
said Watkins. "In fact, we believe there is sufficient evidence
that social media afford opportunities for new expressions of
friendship, intimacy and community."
Watkins surveyed 900 current college students and recent college
graduates across the country to find out what and with whom these
Facebook users communicate, the influence of gender and age, and
the role of news, information and entertainment (for example,
quizzes, games, photos, etc.).
Whether it's a wall post, photo, comment or news link, young
people's engagement with Facebook is driven primarily by a desire
to stay connected and involved in the lives of family and friends
who live near and far, or have recently entered their lives.
When asked to choose the top three activities most engaged in on
Facebook, 66 percent of respondents listed "posting status
updates," 60 percent listed "posting comments/likes to my
profile" and nearly half, 49 percent, listed "posting messages
and other content to friends? profiles."
When asked about the type of communication they engage in on
Facebook, 47 percent of survey participants cited their
communication with friends who live in a different state or
country as "very important," while 28 percent cited communicating
with friends who live in the same city as "very important."
Thirty-five percent of survey participants cited communicating
with family members, such as parents, aunts and uncles, as "very
"Using Facebook to strengthen familial ties indicates that boomer
parents are now quite active, leading us to believe that the
generational gap in social media use is closing," said Watkins.
While men and women use Facebook in equal numbers and agree it's
an important tool to stay in touch with friends, they engage with
the social media platform differently.
Men tend to use Facebook for functional activities, such as
sharing news, information and task-oriented content. Men are less
likely to share photos on Facebook, but when they do they're more
likely to be photos connected to their personal interests, such
as hobbies, animals or scenery. In comparison to women, men are 8
percent more likely to post video clips to their Facebook
Women tend toward affectionate uses of Facebook, such as sharing
personal photos from family events. Women in the survey viewed
photos as an important way to share fun and important personal
experiences with friends.
Over the last year, Facebook has come under intense scrutiny
concerning its privacy policies. While Watkins' study found young
Facebook users are relatively open to sharing personal
information on their profiles, individuals tend to censor
themselves more as they transition from college to the
Of the personal information individuals are able to share on
their profile, Watkins found "relationship status" is widely
shared (84 percent), as is "favorite media," including
information about their favorite books, TV shows and movies.
Compared to graduates, college students were more likely to list
their "religious views" and "political views" on their profiles,
suggesting that as users move from college to the professional
world they become less likely to share personal information that
may be perceived as controversial. When it comes to sharing what
may be considered personal information men are much more likely
than women, for example, to share their political views (49
percent vs. 36 percent) as well as their religious views (51
percent vs. 43 percent).
"As the debate about social media and privacy rages on, this
study suggests that as social media users grow older they may
become more selective about the personal data they share online,"
Other findings from the "Got Facebook? Investigating What's
Social About Social Media" study:
* Of all the media content young people share via Facebook ?
photos, videos, links, quizzes ? sharing photos is common with 87
percent of respondents reporting that they post photos on
Facebook. However, less than 20 percent of these people post
photos weekly or more frequently.
* Facebook has evolved into a social gaming platform with 58
percent of respondents reporting they are likely to play a game
or take a quiz on a typical day, whereas 33 percent reporting
they are not likely to. Of those who participate in gaming, 52
percent are college graduates and 44 percent are college
* In the transition from high school to college, individuals
share significantly more personal information and "friend" more
people, but don't spend more time on Facebook.
* College-educated Facebook users still frequently rely upon
more traditional news sources, such as television and radio, and
turn to those sources more frequently than online news
* Men tend to use Facebook more than women to post links to
pop culture, current events and news-related topics.
* The average number of Facebook "friends" among respondents