NEW YORK (Reuters) - Contrary to common belief social media websites such as Facebook do not weaken personal ties, they strengthen them in unique ways for different age groups, according to a new study.
The rapid spread of Facebook, which has more than 500 million users worldwide, has prompted concerns about its negative effects, but researchers at the University of Texas have reached a different conclusion.
"Our findings suggest that Facebook is not supplanting face-to-face interactions between friends, family and colleagues," said S. Craig Watkins, an associate professor of radio, TV and film who headed the research team.
"In fact, we believe there is sufficient evidence that social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community."
The researchers questioned 900 college students and recent graduates about how and with whom they interact on Facebook.
More than 60 percent of Facebook users said posting status updates was among the most popular activities, followed by 60 percent who wrote comments on their profile and 49 percent who posted messages and comments to friends.
The researchers also found that although about the same number of men and women use Facebook, they do so in different ways.
"There is a noteworthy difference in orientation in how to use a tool like Facebook. We found that for women the content tends to be more affectionate, and (they) are especially interested in using it for connection," said Watkins.
"For men, it's more functional," he added.
Watkins pointed out that, for example, women are more likely to post pictures of social gatherings with friends, while men are more likely to post pictures of hobbies, or post a political or pop-culture related link.
He added that increased use of Facebook brings additional challenges as young adults are forced to adapt their Facebook behavior to an increasingly large social circle.
"Facebook brings all our different networks and social scenes together. We present ourselves in different ways, whether to friends, co-workers, or family," he said. "Facebook engagement is not uniform. It's constantly evolving and in a state of flux, and that presents a challenge."
Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr; Editing by Patricia Reaney