Social network activity and social well-beingJust submitted the final version of this paper:
Burke, M., Marlow, C., & Lento, T. (To appear). Social network activity and social well-being. ACM CHI 2010: Conference on human factors in computing.PDF
It's the product of another fantabulous summer with the Facebook Data Scientists. This time we surveyed about 1200 English-speaking Facebook users, asking them validated social psych scales measuring social capital and loneliness (e.g. "I come in contact with new people all the time" or "There are several people I trust to help solve my problems".) We paired their self-reports with communication activity on the site.
The work is based on the numerous studies that Nicole Ellison, Cliff Lampe, and Chip Steinfeld have done at MSU, connecting self-reports of Facebook use with social capital. Since we had granular activity data on server logs, we extended their work to look at different kinds of communication, particularly (1) directed communication (e.g., interacting with individual friends / sending messages / writing on each other's walls), and (2) passive consumption (e.g., reading stories about friends in the newsfeed). Turns out directed communication acts as expected (people who have strong relationships tend to communicate heavily with individual friends), but passive consumption is associated with greater feelings of loneliness. Since it's a cross-sectional study, we can't tell if clicking on feed stories makes people feel lonely, or lonely people tend to click on more feed stories, but we'll be able to tease out causation in future waves of the study.
We also validated the Facebook Intensity Scale; people are great at self-reporting their number of FB friends (duh) and pretty good at reporting time on the site. But attitudinal questions about their engagement with the site don't correlate to any measurable activities (like content production, repeat visits in a month, etc.)