A recent study has found that the use of social networking services can have positive effects on real-world social connections.
The Pew Internet Research study quizzed 2,255 US adults about their web browsing and social networking habits, and found that 79 per cent are regular internet users and 59 per cent use at least one social networking service.
By comparison, the 2008 edition of the same study showed that just 26 per cent of adults used social networking sites.
These sites are also attracting an older audience. Some 68 per cent of social networking users in 2008 were aged 18 to 35, but the latest study found that the 18-35 demographic now represents 48 per cent of the total community, and that more than a quarter of users are 50 or older.
The study found that Twitter, Facebook and MySpace claim more female users than male, but that 63 per cent of business social networking site LinkedIn users are male.
The study also disproved the notion that social networking use causes real-world interactions to diminish.
Researchers estimated that the average online personal network comprises 636 social ties, compared with an average of 506 for non-internet users.
More specifically, the report found that Twitter users claimed an average of 838 social ties, while LinkedIn users averaged 786.
"The findings suggest that there is little validity to concerns that people who use [social networking sites] experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity," the researchers wrote.
"Americans have more close social ties than they did two years ago. And they are less socially isolated."
The rise in social networks has also led to closer relationships. The study found that fewer people categorise themselves as socially isolated, and that the average number of close friends has increased.
The Pew study is the latest to challenge commonly held beliefs about social networking use. A 2008 study suggested that social networking use in the workplace is actually beneficial to employee productivity.
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