Survey on Online Social Networks
By María Esther López García
Our ways of communication are changing as a result of the new technological developments and the Internet. During the last two years, there has been a spectacular increase in social networks on the web, where people create groups of friends and share information about each other. In Spain, Facebook and Tuenti are the most famous online social networks, and this is the reason why I chose them for my research. With my survey, I wanted to see how people use social networks, why they use them and how important they are for their real social life. I wanted to discover if social networks are substituting personal relationships or they just complement our social life.
In order to gather information about people’s attitudes towards online social networks, I created an online questionnaire on a website. I sent the link to 30 male and female Facebook and Tuenti users. I did not want to choose the users, as I thought that it could influence the final results of the survey. I spread the link on Tuenti and Facebook in a random way as I wanted the link to reach as many people as possible. When I had 30 questionnaires answered, I closed the poll and obtained the results. The webpage compiled the information and created the graphics. Then, I separated males’ and females’ results, in order to look for possible differences in their answers.
The questionnaire had different sections. I asked about personal data, time and frequency of use, how they discovered them, privacy and contacts, the influence of the net on their social relations, the importance of the language and finally, their general opinion about the social network.
I obtained answers from 18 male and 12 female users between the ages of 17 and 40. Their places of residence are situated in different cities of Spain (Barcelona, Vigo, Cadiz, Jaen, Murcia, and Granada) and different countries such as Portugal, Switzerland and Denmark. In general, users’ profiles are characterized by a higher education and half of the people polled were also workers and had technical and specialized jobs.
Most of them started using social networks in the last 2 years and the majority discovered it through a friend. They are their favourite web pages during the time they use the Internet, as the vast majority visit Tuenti or Facebook more than once in a day.
They argued that they registered on social networks mainly to keep in touch with their friends and to have fun. The three main action tasks performed on the website confirm this, as they claimed that “watching pics and writing comments about them”, “visiting their friends’ profiles” and “uploading pics, videos and music” are their favourite tasks. The second and third answers proved that they use the web to have fun. 89% of the users coincided in “watching pics and writing comments on them” as their most frequent activity which means that they use the net to have fun at the same time that they keep in touch with their friends. Thus, social interaction and communication is here a way of entertaining, but they do not use the net to communicate important or private information as I found in the answers about the use of walls. Here, there was a difference between boys and girls. Most of the girls use the wall to talk about some issues which are not private (66%), a high percentage of boys (53%) only use it to say hello or to congratulate. Although they sometimes talk about some issues on their walls, 75% of the participants said that they do not use social networks either to contact their friends or to arrange a meeting. In this sense, communication through these social nets is limited and people use it to get in touch as a way to have fun.
Dealing with privacy issues and the information that people provide on their profiles, I found that, in general, users are aware of the danger of publishing personal data on the web. Most of the users’ profiles (62%) are private: only their contacts can visit it. Only 7 people had public profiles and all of them were men. The information provided is then only accessible for their contacts, who in most cases are real friends and people that they know in real life. Almost 90% of the people said that they know all or almost all of their contacts personally. In general, their contacts are members of their family and friends from university and school. They argue that social networks have not helped them to make new friends or to get to know people in their environment that they did not know before. The majority of the users do not accept friendship requests from people that they do not know. They do not send friendship requests to other people that they do not know either. 72% of the users say that they still prefer to meet new people personally; they do not want to use social networks with this aim. This information coincides again with the reason they gave to register the web at the beginning. Their “virtual” friends on the net are their “real” friends in real life. They like visiting their friends’ profiles to learn more about them and as a way to be linked to them.
With regard to the number of contacts, “Quantity does not mean quality” as a boy said, which describes the general opinion of the people polled. 93% of the people thought that a long list of friends on Facebook or Tuenti is not a symbol of popularity; it does not mean that all of them are real friends.
Online social networks have helped people to keep in touch with friends in other cities and countries. Nowadays, international relationships are easier to maintain due to the new technological advances in communication, and these networks have become part of them. All of the participants declared that they have friends in other cities and 65% also had friends in other countries. The majority claimed that social networks have helped them to keep their friendships. They get in touch more frequently and they find this way easier and cheaper. On the other hand, 37% of them still prefer other ways to get in contact.
Finally, I wanted to see whether language played an important role on the network. 62% of the people preferred their mother tongue as the primary language on Facebook. It is noteworthy that the people who know English answered that they do not care about the language, although only 10% use English on Facebook. All of them are Spanish people living in other countries and people from other non-English speaking countries. Spanish people living in Spain still prefer their mother tongue as the primary language, and the reasons they gave were that “they do not know English”. One girl said that it could be dangerous if the language of the social network were a language that people did not know well, as they could not understand some information, for example, privacy statements.
Opinions are divided regarding the real benefits of social networks. Half of the people thought that they had improved our real social life and the other half claimed that it had not. Some positive aspects of networks are that they help us to keep closer to our friends and family and if they live in other cities or countries the net makes it easier to know about their lives. “They make the world smaller” and “help to understand other cultures”. You feel as if your friends or family in other countries were living “on the other side of the street”, and one boy said that Facebook has helped him to know the new place where he is living now. Online social networks are included in the group of the new ways to communicate, and another opinion was that they can be useful for companies to advertise.
The other half of the people polled thought that they had not changed our social lives in reality. They are used just for fun and “gossiping” is the most common word in their answers. These users still prefer personal contact, and they think that these social networks have not replaced our real social life. They do not find it essential in their life: it is just a complement and another way to know things about their friends. Some problems that they find are privacy policies, the use of these websites by minors and people who take refuge in these webs to have a normal social life.
After having analysed the data, we can conclude that during the last two years online social networks have been included in the new technological advances in communications and they occupy an important part of the time we spend surfing the Web. They have contributed to make relationships easier and they have helped us to keep closer to our friends and to know about them, especially if they live in another city or country. The web is used to share mainly visual information, what help people to get closer in contrast to other means. Users have an active role in networking sites, which are used to share ideas and interests among friends and social interaction is based on a creative activity: by uploading and sharing photos, videos and writing people express themselves in a creative way. It does not mean that people exhibit their whole life on the web but they are aware of the danger of the net. Regarding the differences between boys and girls, I only found that girls seemed to be more likely to talk about some unimportant matters on walls in contrast to boys who use the wall mainly to greet. In general, we do not talk about private issues on walls and we carefully decide whom access to the information we publish. We do not use networks to make new friends, and people thought that a long list of contacts was not a symbol of popularity. That is, our contacts on the web are our real friends, so we create a virtual community that reflects our social network in real life. In this sense, social networking has not substituted personal contact but they have complemented our social life. Regarding language, we still prefer our mother tongue as the primary language on the net. It is noteworthy that people who know English do not care about the language and some of them use English on Facebook, although it is not their mother tongue. This could be another example of English as the Lingua Franca, although more studies are needed in this field. In conclusion, we use social networks to create online communities that reflect our physical networks without replacing our real social life and they turn communication into another mean of entertainment.