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The social impact of technology

June 17, 2011

In 2010 58.3 per cent of Europeans, 60.1 per cent of Australasians and 78.3 per cent of North Americans used the internet. Worldwide, 2.1billion people (30.2 per cent) used the internet – a growth of 480.4 per cent in 11 years. 


The growth of the internet has led to a huge growth in social networking sites appealing to internet users the world over to connect with friends, be politically active, campaign, publicise events, blog, micro-blog,  play games, share videos, share photographs, share music, share documents, share news… the possibilities are (almost) endless.

In 2009 Facebook had 150 million users. This had more than doubled to 350 million users by 2010, with 175 million people logging on to Facebook every day. Twitter and YouTube have also grown in popularity significantly over recent years. Since 2007, the number of tweets per day has increased from 5,000 to 50 million per day or 600 tweets per second. In 2007 YouTube users uploaded eight hours of video per minute compared to 48 hours of video per minute in 2011.

Undoubtedly, the widespread use of such technology is having a massive impact on how people interact with each other and with causes, charities and campaigns (as I outlined in recent posts Using digital tools to build activism and Using digital tools to build local activism).

Pew Internet’s recent Social Impact of Technology series has uncovered a number of really interesting findings into the impact social networking sites have on people’s political activity and their interaction with voluntary groups or organisations in the US.

Social networking sites for political activity:

  • Internet users in general are more than twice as likely as non-internet users to attend a political meeting, 78 per cent more likely to try to have an impact on someone’s vote, and 53 per cent more likely to vote or intend to vote.
  • Facebook users are much more politically engaged than most people.
  • Compared to other internet and social networking site users, Facebook users who use the site more than once-a-day are two and a half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57 per cent more likely to try to influence someone’s vote, and 43 per cent more likely to vote or intend to vote.

Digital technology to interact with groups:

  • 80 per cent of internet users participate in some kind of voluntary group or organisation, compared to 56 per cent of non-internet users.
  • 82 per cent of social network users and 85 per cent of Twitter users participate in a group.
  • Groups and their participants use a range of digital tools to keep in touch – including Facebook (62 per cent), Twitter (23 per cent), blogs, and text messages (74 per cent).
  • 65 per cent of group participants using social network sites to read group updates and messages and 30 per cent have shared news about the group on their profile(s).
  • 63 per cent of group participants on Twitter read group updates through Twitter and 21 per cent post group news through their own profile.
  • Group participants who use social media are significantly more likely than those who don’t use social media to say that the internet has a ‘major impact’ on their ability to engage with their group.

For more information and findings please read Social networking sites and our lives and The Social Side of the Internet.


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