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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Contrary to popular fears that cultivating "Facebook friends" will harm people's ability to make friends offline, research suggests that users of social networking sites have higher measures of social well-being.
According to results of a Pew Research Center survey released on Thursday, Facebook users are more trusting, have more close friends, and are more politically-engaged.
"There has been a great deal of speculation about the impact of social networking site use on people's social lives, and much of it has centered on the possibility that these sites are hurting users' relationships and pushing them away from participating in the world," lead author of the report Keith Hampton said.
"We've found the exact opposite -- that people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities."
Last fall, researchers surveyed 2,255 adults about their use of social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
The research indicates a sea change in social relations. Forty-seven percent of adults use social networking sites, up from 26 percent in 2008, when a similar survey was conducted.
Facebook users who sign in to the site several times a day are 43 percent more likely than other Internet users and more than three times more likely than non-internet users to feel that most other people can be trusted.
Heavy Facebook users were particularly active during the midterm election season.
They were two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57 percent more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and 43 percent more likely to have said they would vote, the report said.
Researchers also said that the emotional support and companionship that frequent Facebook users get is equivalent to about half the total support that the average American receives from a spouse or live-in partner.
"Social networking sites have become increasingly important to people as they find ways to integrate check-ins and updates into the rhythms of their lives," a co-author of the report Lee Rainie said.
"People use them now to stay in touch with their best friends and distant acquaintances alike," Rainie said.
"It's clear that the world of networked individuals will continue to change as the platforms and populations of users continue to evolve."
Reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by Greg McCune