Propelled by the rise of social media hubs, the Internet has become a primary vehicle for Americans to organize in communities and engage in volunteer activities and other forms of group participation, according to new research from the Pew Internet Project.
In their latest survey, Pew researchers found that 80 percent of adult Internet users said they participate in some form of group, compared with just 56 percent of non-Internet users.
Among respondents who have an account with a social networking site, 82 percent said they participate in a voluntary group or organization. Among Twitter users, that figure jumps to 85 percent.
Pew’s survey found that 75 percent of all American adults, online or off, are engage in some type of group activity.
“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,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, said in a statement.
Political observers, including Pew, have noted the increasing use of social media and other online tools as a method to promote candidates in campaigns, or drive awareness of a particular issue under debate.
In its survey, Pew asked respondents about the Internet’s impact on 27 types of group activities, finding that 62 percent of the pool of both Internet users and non-users credited the technology with having a “major impact” on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue.
Pew found widely varying proportions of respondents expressing the same opinion about the Internet’s impact on a host of other group functions, such as raising money, recruiting new members and affecting local communities.
“Even as Internet tools have become ubiquitous in group activity, people have quite nuanced views of where technology is the biggest help and where its impact is pretty modest,” Rainie said.
Rainie is due to present the findings of the report at a congressional policy conference on Tuesday. He is likely to find an attentive audience, as members of Congress, like other politicians, have been increasingly exploring Facebook, Twitter and other online tools as a vehicle to connect with their constituencies and build their support.
Not surprisingly, Pew found that social media users reported more active engagement in an array of group activities on the Web, including recruiting new members into their online tribe.
Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.