Pew study on social networking doesn’t find that trusting rural nature

If tales of unlocked back doors and keys left in cars (see my post Thursday on the definition of “rural”) make you think rural residents trust others more, you might be wrong.

A survey of Americans that the Pew Internet & American Life project took last year turned up no statistically significant difference among rural, suburban and urban residents in how likely they are to say that in general people can be trusted.

That’s the word this week from Lauren Sessions Goulet, one of the authors of a report that Pew put out last month.

That report chronicled the growth of Americans’ use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social networking sites and, most interestingly, laid it alongside data about how trusting Americans are in general.

Internet users are more likely to say that in general most people can be trusted. Facebook users in particular are even more likely to think that, the survey of 2,200 adults showed.

That made me think about the latest Internet use survey that the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter did comparing rural and urban Internet use in Minnesota. That research found a shrinking Internet use gap between the Twin Cities and the rest of Minnesota. It actually detected a greater use of social networking sites among Internet users in small outstate cities and a lesser use of those sites among rural Internet users.

Would the equation involving trust in others and social networking use look any different for rural users, I wondered. And would the shrinking Twin Cities-outstate gap in Internet use be reflected in social networking data?

The folks at Pew hadn’t addressed a rural-urban split in their report but when I asked, Goulet was kind enough to delve into their data and send me what she could find.

First off, about 40 percent of rural residents used social networking sites like Facebook last year, Pew’s data show.

That percentage is twice what it was two years earlier, but still less than suburban (46 percent) and urban (50 percent) use. The gap in social networking use is neither shrinking nor growing, she said.

Here’s the urban-suburban-rural breakdown on use of social networking sites, showing growth in all areas:


The shrinking Internet use gap that the Minnesota research has found is not reflected in the Pew numbers on social networking use. If the urban-rural gap in computer and Internet use is shrinking as availability of broadband increases, it seems a little surprising that gap in social networking use is not also shrinking.

And the mildly surprising result on the trust question is that rural people are no more likely than anybody else to say people in general can be trusted. And the Pew data shows no significant difference for rural people in the relationship between use of social networking sites and their trust in people.

This leaves me scratching my head a little.

I’m still intrigued with whether people in communities around Minnesota use Facebook and other sites differently than people in the Twin Cities. Perhaps the Center for Rural Policy and Development can shed some light on that next time around.

One more tidbit to fall out of the Pew numbers — rural people are least represent on LinkedIn and Twitter, most represented on Facebook and MySpace.

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