Four out of five Internet users participate in some kind of group in the “real” world, compared with just 56 percent of those who don’t use the Internet regularly, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. Those figures rise to 82 percent for users of social networks, and to 85 percent for users of Twitter — in other words, being social online makes it more likely you will be social offline as well.
Ever since the Internet first started to go mainstream, there has been an image of the archetypal Internet user: someone hunched over a computer in the dark, spending hours online instead of interacting with people in the real world. Although such creatures undoubtedly exist, this has always been an unfair portrayal of most people who spend time online, and the Pew data confirms that. Lee Rainie of the Pew Center said in a statement:
Use of the Internet in general, and social media in particular, has become the lubricant for chatter and outreach for all kinds of groups ranging from spiritual communities to professional societies to ad hoc fan clubs.
The Internet-related results are part of a larger Pew report on the real-world social activity of Americans — how many people belong to social groups in their communities, what kinds of groups they tend to join, how membership breaks down based on age and income, etc. But as part of the study, the group also asked those who belong to groups about their use of the Internet and of social media and social networks.
The report also found that a majority of Americans — both Internet users and non-Internet users — believe the Internet has increased the ability of groups to communicate with members and to draw attention to an issue. The report also found that those who are members of groups and associations say the Internet has had a major impact on their ability to communicate with and stay connected to other members of those groups, and to stay informed about the group’s activities:
68 percent of all Americans (both Internet users and non-users) said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.
62 percent of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue.
59 percent of all Americans said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to organize activities.
53 percent of online users who are active in groups say the Internet has had a major impact on their ability to keep up with news and information about their groups
46 percent of Internet users who are active in groups say the Internet has help them be active in more groups than would otherwise be the case.
According to the Pew report, those who are Internet users tend to be far more active in their groups than non-Internet users, with 69 percent attending meetings (compared with 54 percent of non-Internet users) and 64 percent volunteering their time for a group, compared with just 47 percent of non-Internet users. The study also found that close to half of those who are active in groups say those groups have a page on a social network such as Facebook, while 42 percent say their group uses text messaging, and 30 percent of those who belong to a group say their group has its own blog. The number of groups that communicate with members via Twitter is just 16 percent.