Various fresh findings on Facebook use

By Anne Collier

There used to be two bodies of research most relevant to kids online: social-media research and youth-online-risk research (as co-chair of an online-safety task force last year, I tried to bring more of the former into the discussion). But that binary is fading fast, as it should; since the Internet mirrors virtually all of human life, what’s happening on it should be looked at by researchers in every field. So now we’re even seeing a body of research develop around Facebook all by itself. Not that Facebook is some sort of add-on to the rest of life, but this is worth noting as a transitional thing.

So here’s what has emerged just in the past couple of weeks. Pew/Internet just released an update that found that 47% of US adults (and 59% of Net-using ones) use social network sites, and 92% of those Facebook. The Toronto Globe & Mail‘s main takeaway (and headline) about it was “Keep calm and carry on ‘Liking,’ Facebook makes you a better person.” USATODAY’s coverage said, “Facebook, it turns out, isn’t just a waste of time. People who use it have more close friends, get more social support and report being more politically engaged than those who aren’t, according to a new national study on Americans and social networks.” None of this is surprising, since people who are more social and civically engaged tend to use effective tools for pursuing their interests.

Then there were two studies on the impact of social networking on privacy and academics. A study of Facebook privacy at Columbia University found that “existing approaches to online privacy are ‘fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed’,” according to coverage in the Huffington Post. The study’s sample was very small (65 Facebook users aged 18-25), but found that all of them reported unintended privacy consequences: either information they wished to share was hidden or information they wished was private had been public. However, “nearly all of the respondents said they had never been negatively affected by these sharing slip-ups,” the researchers also found. And a study in China found that social network sites “can help students become academically and socially integrated as well as improving learning outcomes,” the Science Daily reported. The research, published in the International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations, also showed that Facebook use “is around 90% across campuses [in China, including Hong Kong], and many educational institutions offer new students orientation on how to capitalize on social networking to improve their experience of their course and their final results.”

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