Survey Report

Social networking has spread around the world with remarkable speed. In countries such as Britain, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic and Spain, about half of all adults now use Facebook and similar websites. These sites are also popular in many lower-income nations, where, once people have access to the internet, they tend to use it for social networking.

Meanwhile, cell phones have become nearly ubiquitous throughout much of the world, and people are using them in a variety of ways, including texting and taking pictures. Smart phones are also increasingly common – roughly half in Britain, the U.S., and Japan have one. Globally, most smart phone users say they visit social networking sites on their phone, while many get job, consumer, and political information.

Technologies like these are especially popular among the young and well educated. In almost every country polled, people under age 30 and those with a college education are more likely to engage in social networking and to use a smart phone.

These are among the key findings from a 21-nation survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project from March 17-April 20. The survey also finds that global publics are sharing their views online about a variety of topics, especially popular culture. Across 20 of the nations polled (Pakistan is excluded from this calculation due to the small number of social networking users), a median of 67% of social networkers say they use these sites to share opinions about music and movies. Significant numbers also post their views on community issues, sports and politics. Fewer give their opinions about religion.

Expressing opinions about politics, community issues and religion is particularly common in the Arab world. For instance, in Egypt and Tunisia, two nations at the heart of the Arab Spring, more than six-in-ten social networkers share their views about politics online. In contrast, across 20 of the nations surveyed, a median of only 34% post their political opinions.

Similarly, in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan, more than seven-in-ten share views on community issues, compared with a cross-national median of just 46%.

There is considerable interest in social networking in low- and middle-income nations. Once people in these countries are online, they generally become involved in social networks at high rates. For instance, the vast majority of internet users in Mexico, Brazil, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and India are using social networking sites.

Conversely, publics in some more economically developed nations seem less enthusiastic about interacting with others online – especially Japan and Germany, the only two countries where less than half of all internet users participate in social networks. And those Japanese and Germans who do go online for social networking use it less often than others around the world to express thoughts on culture, community, sports, politics and religion.

Social Networking

In 19 of 21 countries, about three-in-ten or more of those polled use sites such as Facebook, including about half in Britain (52%), the U.S. (50%), Russia (50%), Spain (49%), and the Czech Republic (49%). Only in India (6%) and Pakistan (4%) is the percentage of adults who use social networking sites in single digits.1

In every country polled, use of social networking sites varies by age. In 17 of 21 countries, there is a gap of 50 points or more in usage of social networking sites between those younger than 30 and those 50 or older. This gap is particularly pronounced in Italy, Poland, Britain and Greece, where at least 70 percentage points separate those in the younger group from those in the older group.

Similarly, use of social networking sites varies by education level, with double-digit differences between those with a college degree and those without a college degree in 15 of 18 countries (this finding excludes Mexico, Brazil and Pakistan, where fewer than 100 respondents have a college degree). The widest gap is found in Egypt, where 81% of those with a college degree use social networking sites, compared with just 18% of those with less education.

Among those who participate in social networks, sharing views about music and movies is a popular activity; majorities in 17 countries say they have done this. In China (86%), India (85%), Mexico (84%), Greece (83%), Turkey (78%), Tunisia (77%) and Italy (75%), at least three-quarters have shared their views about music and movies. Sports, on the other hand, is a less common topic, with half or more of users of social networking sites in only seven countries – India, Jordan, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Brazil and China – saying they have shared their opinions about sports.

In Arab countries such as Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, social networking sites are also a popular forum for expressing views on politics and community issues. More than seven-in-ten users of social networking sites in these countries have posted about community issues on these sites, and at least six-in-ten have shared their views about politics. Italy and Turkey are the only other countries surveyed where majorities of those who use social networking sites have expressed opinions about community issues (64% and 63%, respectively); most in Turkey also have shared their views on politics on these sites (57%).

Users of social networking in Tunisia (63%), Egypt (63%) and Jordan (62%) are also more likely than those in other countries to say they have posted on religion. In fact, in no other nation surveyed has a majority of users of these sites shared views about religion. In 14 countries, only about a third or less have posted on this topic.

Cell Phones Nearly Universal in Much of World

Broad majorities around the world own a cell phone. Three-quarters or more in 18 of the 21 countries surveyed say they have a mobile phone, while at least half say the same in Mexico (63%), India (56%) and Pakistan (52%).

In addition to making phone calls, most respondents say they regularly use their cell phone to send text messages. At least two-thirds of cell-phone owners in 17 countries say they frequently text, including 93% in Mexico and 90% in Lebanon. Turks (60%), Germans (58%), Indians (42%) and Pakistanis (36%) are less likely to send text messages.

Taking pictures or videos with cell phones is somewhat less popular. The Japanese (79%), Mexicans (70%), Americans (67%) and Spanish (67%) are the most likely to regularly use their phones to take a picture or video, while roughly six-in-ten or fewer say the same in the other 17 countries surveyed. Pakistanis (13%) are the least likely to use their mobile phones for such a purpose.

Few cell phone users access the internet on their phones. In 18 of the countries surveyed, fewer than four-in-ten say they regularly use their mobile phone to access the internet. The British (52%), Japanese (51%) and Americans (51%) are most likely to do so.

Smart Phone Users Engaged on Social Networks

Among smart phone users – defined here as those who own a cell phone and regularly use it to access the internet – social networking is very popular.

In 12 countries, at least six-in-ten smart phone users access social networks with their phones. The practice is particularly common in Egypt (79%), Mexico (74%) and Greece (72%). The Japanese (45%) and Chinese (31%), on the other hand, are the least likely to use their phones for connecting with social networks.

Respondents in the U.S., Japan and Europe are most likely to use their smart phones to get information about consumer products, their job or politics. At least four-in-ten in these countries say they use their phone regularly to get information about prices and availability of products or about issues related to their job. And more than a third say the same about accessing political news and information.

Overall, smart phone users in the countries surveyed in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America are less likely to use their phones to gather information, although there are a few exceptions. A majority of smart phone users in India (60%), for example, rely on their mobile phones for information about their job. Egyptians (65%) are particularly likely to search for political news on their cell phones. And the Chinese (48%) are more likely to use their mobile phones to access information about politics than any of the other smart phone activities asked about.

The young are considerably more engaged with their cell phones than their elders. There are double-digit age gaps in most countries for all cell phone activities except making calls. For example, in 19 of the 21 countries surveyed, 18-29 year olds are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those age 50 or older to use their cell phone to access the internet. The biggest differences occur in China (+63 points), Japan (+62), Russia (+62) and Britain (+61).

The way people use their cell phones also varies considerably by education. For example, in 14 countries, respondents with a college education are at least 10 percentage points more likely than those without a college degree to access the internet on their mobile phones. The education gap is particularly large in China (+47), Turkey (+36), Egypt (+32) and Lebanon (+31).