Facebook is building up our social skills, adapted to the digital age, concludes research done at the University of Texas.
While the social network site 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, is the first to examine the distinct ways in which engagement with Facebook is evolving into a multi-faceted social experience.
"Our findings indicate that Facebook is not supplanting face-to-face interactions among friends, family and colleagues.
"In fact, we believe there is sufficient evidence that social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community," said Watkins.
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.).
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 important."
"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.
Men tend to use Facebook for functional activities, such as sharing news, information and task-oriented content. However, women tend toward affectionate uses of Facebook, such as sharing personal photos from family events.
"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," said Watkins.
The study is available online at www.theyoungandthedigital.com.