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How kind are social networks?

Fascinating report by Pew Internet on the emotional climate adults find on social networking sites. From a summary of the report circulated by Pew:

  • 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.

  • At the same time, 49% of SNS-using adults said they have seen mean or cruel behavior displayed by others at least occasionally. And 26% said they had experienced at least one of the bad outcomes that were queried in the survey.

It’s easy to see how this compares with our expectations about social networks. For me, I was pleasantly surprised at the 85% number, and would have guessed the 49% would have been higher. After all, I’ve seen occasional mean acts even on mailing lists among people who have come to know one another pretty well over the years. And you can’t have a blog for long without attracting some mean-spirited comments, On the other hand, it’s hard to know what to make of this compared to non-digital social networks. Would 49% of adults say that they have seen mean or cruel behavior at work? Among their extended set of real-world friends? At parties they’ve gone to? It’s hard to know exactly what an online network compares to structurally.

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