But it seems – whisper it – that there really is something in that lingering suspicion that most users of social networking sites have more friends in cyberspace than reality.
The average person has in fact double the amount of online friends than physical ones, according to research commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which found users of such sites have 121 online friends compared with 55 physical friends.
The study also claims that people tend to be more open, confident and honest with their virtual friends than their “real” counterparts.
“For most people, the internet is a way of keeping in touch with loved ones and friends but for people who are isolated due to illness, it plays a more vital role and can often act as a lifeline,” said Helen Oxley, consultant clinical psychologist at Manchester Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre, Wythenshawe hospital.
“In wider society, the ways in which friendships are formed and nurtured is changing with people recognising that they can develop deep, meaningful connections with others that they’ve never met, and may never meet.
“People with illnesses often rely on the internet’s ability to facilitate friendships as they blog and use networking sites as a way of coming to terms with, and dealing with their illness. It can foster a sense of social connection for those who can frequently feel isolated, which is important to psychological wellbeing.”
The results also reveal that one in 10 people has either met their best friend online or believe they will meet lifelong friends on the web.
The findings highlight how social introductions are also changing. Only five percent would ask for someone’s phone number whereas 23 percent are more likely to ask for an email address or a full name with the intention of adding them on a social network.
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the internet provides a vital lifeline to people unable to physically socialise as much as they would like to.Matthew Reed, the trust’s chief executive, said: “The social aspect of the web is very important to many people with CF, especially those who are no longer able to get out and about easily for various reasons.”
Yet more scrutiny of the alleged impact of social networking websites on society at large was meanwhile provided by a separate study which found that one in five parents think their children’s school results are suffering due to the amount of time they spend on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and other other non-educational web pages.
A questionnaire completed by 4,427 adults, suggested that 20 percent of parents believe their child’s education is being hampered by the amount of time they spend on such sites.
The survey, conducted on behalf of TalkTalk‘s internet security service HomeSafe, found that children are spending an average of two hours and six minutes a day online.
Nearly half of six to 11-year-olds spend one to two hours per day using the internet to play games but only 10 percent use the internet daily to do their homework, results show.
It found that 50 percent of children aged between 12 and 17 use social networking sites every day while only 16 percent use the internet daily for homework.
Childnet chief executive Will Gardner said: “Children under the age of 15 have never known a world without the internet. It’s revolutionised how they learn, play and communicate with each other.