SURVEY: 85% of American adults who use social media say people are “mostly kind” on the sites

A new survey report on “the tone of life on social networking sites” from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 85% of American adults who use social media say people are “mostly kind” on those sites:

These attitudes will naturally be of great interest to people who work in practices that span open government to education, in terms of practitioners considering the use of social media for public engagement, civic participation, and deliberative democracy, along with grist for digital ethnographers of both the amateur and professional variety.

More stats, excerpted from the report:

“A nationally representative phone survey of American adults finds that:

*85% of SNS-using adults say that their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind, compared with 5% who say people they observe on the sites are mostly unkind and another 5% who say their answer depends on the situation.

*68% of SNS users said they had an experience that made them feel good about themselves.

*61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person. (Many said they had both experiences.)

*39% of SNS-using adults say they frequently see acts of generosity by other SNS users and another 36% say they sometimes see others behaving generously and helpfully. By comparison, 18% of SNS-using adults say they see helpful behavior “only once in a while” and 5% say they never see generosity exhibited by others on social networking sites.”

Pew: Search and email are nearly universal among adult Internet users

The results of a new survey from the Pew Internet and Life Project will come as no surprise to most: Internet users: search and email top the list of the things people do online. These two activities have been the most popular since Pew first started tracking online behavior over the last decade. The advent of broadband, mobile devices and social media has not changed that dynamic, though it’s a safe bet that adults under 30 are sending quite a lot of Facemail, IMs and tweets these days too.

That said, Pew did identify a difference. “The most significant change over that time is that both activities have become more habitual,” writes Kristen Purcell. “Today, roughly six in ten online adults engage in each of these activities on a typical day; in 2002, 49% of online adults used email each day, while just 29% used a search engine daily.”

Search and email demographics

According to Pew’s numbers, search is most popular among adult internet users aged age 18-29, 96% of whom use search engines to find information online.

There’s also some evidence of a continuing digital divide based upon education and race. According to Pew, online adults, college-educated, and those in the highest income categories are more likely than others to use email.

“These demographic differences are considerably more pronounced when one looks at email use on a typical day,” writes Purcell. “Moreover, while overall email use is comparable across white, African-American and Hispanic online adults, internet use on any given day is not. White online adults are significantly more likely than both African-American and Hispanic online adults to be email users on a typical day (63% v. 48% v. 53%, respectively).”

This new survey and its findings should be read in the context of last year’s report that citizens are turning to Internet for government data, policy and services and considering in the context of the ongoing federal .gov website review.

If open government is to be citizen-centric, it will clearly need to be search-centric. That means ensuring that government websites are available in search and evaluating how search-centric redesigns at Utah.gov perform over time.

These results also suggest that as exciting as the integration of social media into government may be, officials tasked with public engagement and consultation shouldn’t neglect using email to communicate with citizens, along with Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and the other apps available to them. The difference in demographics usage of social media and email, however, does highlight that social media offers an important complementary channel to reach mobile citizens that access the Internet primarily through their mobile phones.

Pew: Open government is tied to higher levels of community satisfaction

The results from a new study from Pew Internet and Life Project found that when citizens believe their governments are sharing more information, they are more likely to feel satisfied with civic life. The study will offer some evidence for elected officials who run on open government platforms or who work for more transparency. Broadband users are more critical of their communities and local institutions.

The study, released by the Pew Research Center, Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation found that citizens who believe that their city hall is more transparency are more likely to have positive feelings about:

  • the overall quality of their community
  • the ability of their community, including media and neighbors, to provide them with information that matters;
  • the overall performance of their local government
  • the performance of civic and journalistic institutions, including public safety, libraries, and media outlets.

The Pew study also found that government transparency was associated with how empowered residents feel. Specifically, those who think government shares information well “are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government.” That said, the authors of the report made sure to caution not to draw too broad a conclusion from these findings:

We did not establish causality here – for instance, that greater government transparency provides benefits to a host of civic organizations or that broadband-adoption initiatives will heighten citizens’ critical thinking about their community or that higher-quality journalism will encourage more people to turn out for town meetings. Yet these possibilities emerge in the answers citizens and their leaders gave.

The degree of open government in a given community isn’t just about how citizens feel about it, however, as transparency advocates have emphasized: it’s  about how well government is actually sharing information, versus how well citizens feel they are. One interesting finding from the survey was that with increased broadband use, citizens become more critical of their communities and institutions.

“This result suggests that those citizens with broadband expect – but don’t always find – information from their governments, schools and other local civic organizations there where they want it when they want it,” noted report author Tony Siesfeld, head of research for the Monitor Institute, in a prepared statement. “It may be that broadband is raising ‘the bar’ on information transparency.”

The Internet is playing a role in the new information ecosystem. According to the survey:

  • 32% of the residents of the towns surved now get local news from social networking sites like Facebook
  • 19% get local news from blogs
  • 12% get it on smartphones and mobile devices like smartphones
  • 7% get local news from Twitter.

“There have been vast changes in the local news and information landscape in recent years,” noted Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet Project and an author of a report on the findings, in a prepared statement.  “One of the key insights here is that citizens have new ways to assess the performance of city hall. They are paying attention to how transparent their government is. If they feel public agencies are forthcoming, they also feel better about other parts of town. There might be a real civic payoff if governments shared more. ”

There’s much more to dig through in the survey (both the OhMyGov.com and techPresident analyses are worth reading) but one findings is worth highlighting for local government leaders making policy decisions this year:

Each of the 3 communities surveyed (San Jose, CA, Macon, GA, and Philadelphia, PA) have what the report calls an “online portal” for government and civic information. Even so, only a little more than a third of their residents were fully aware of the local government website.. From the report:

Moreover, in the opinion surveys, we found that many who tried to use the internet to get local civic information could not always find what they were seeking. Only a quarter of these residents said that when they did searches for local civic information they always found what they were seeking. Yet even when they found what they were seeking, only 37% said the information presented to them was very clear and easy to understand.

There’s clearly some room for local governments to improve here. The survey results suggested what could be done: “one strong yearning residents expressed was for a central location for civic information that is maintained by the government. More than three-quarters of the respondents in these three communities (78%) said it was ‘very important’ that a government website be set up for this and another 17% said it was ‘somewhat important.'”

Throughout United States and elsewere in the world, there are more examples of technology-fueled open government, where citizensourcing is part of the set of tools officials deploy. If local governments keep using technology to deliver smarter government, there’s reason to be hopeful that new online hubs fueled by open government data will play an important role in the information needs of citizens.

Fuel for debate at the State of the Net: The Social Side of the Internet

Social Network by Luc Legay
My Social Network by Luc Legay

A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and Life Project sheds new light on the social side of the Internet.The results offer new insight into the differences between the connected and the disconnected.

The survey found that:

  • 75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active
  • 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. Moreover, social media users are even more likely to be active
  • 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants.

For stats junkies, the full report offers many more numbers on how people organize, find groups and use the Internet to participate. Or not, as the case may be. The disconnected are not, by definition, participants in virtual civic discourse or affinity groups. There are many shades to the digital divide. “It is important to note that 25% of American adults are not active in any of the groups we addressed,” wrote Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at Pew Internet and co-author of the report. “They often report they are time-stressed or have health or other issues that limit their ability to be involved. And about a fifth of them say that lack of access to the internet is a hindrance. Even in its absence, the internet seems to be a factor in the reality of how groups perform in the digital age.”

The results of the survey will provide grist for the mill, so to speak, at a panel discussion at the State of the Net conference tomorrow, where this correspondent will join Jerry Berman, Andrew Keen, Lee Rainie and Clay Shirky to talk about social media and the role of the Internet on civic life. If you have questions or comments, please share them in the comments. (And for those in NYC, keep on eye out for the new Meetup.)